Category Archives: Latest News

Local Governments and Blockchain: A Match Made in Digital Heaven

Despite niche interest outside of the cryptocurrency community during its inception in 2008, blockchain technology is starting to go mainstream as local governments explore new ways to utilize the digital ledger system for improved security, efficiency, and transparency.

This is because blockchain technology offers an easy way to track and verify digital transactions. For example, each taxpayer to pay their property taxes to the county through the blockchain would have their payments logged as a unique “block” containing encrypted transaction information and timestamps. Each transactional block would also contain information referencing the block that preceded it (known as a cryptographic hash function). Read more >

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With Cyberattacks Still on the Rise, Security Solutions Abound for Utility Districts

With a recent report from the FBI showing a 69% increase in cybercrime between 2019 and 2020, it should come as no surprise that such attacks cost US governmental entities just shy of $19 million last year. Most worrisome is that these attacks have not only increased in frequency but in intensity as well, targeting vital aspects of American infrastructure—from oil companies to police departments. Perhaps one of most concerning instances, and one that seemed to fly under the radar, is the water plant that was hacked in Oldsmar, FL back in February.

Hackers managed to find a way to exploit a remote-access loophole that allowed them to increase the amount of lye (used to manage pH levels) fed into the water system. Read more >

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More Funding for Infrastructure Means Broadband, Water/Sewer Improvements and Jobs

With the American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March, the Treasury Department has begun to set aside $350 billion in emergency funds for qualifying states, local and tribal governments. Among other things, Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds can be used to support public health costs, ameliorate the negative socio-economic effects of the past year, and perhaps most importantly, invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Broadband infrastructure investments are particularly timely after a year that saw dramatic increases in both remote work and overall data usage. According to American City & County, over 30 million Americans currently do not have access to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas. Read more >

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Evolving Cyberthreats Lead to Evolved Cybersecurity

With more people working from home, cybersecurity is more important than ever. Threat actors are becoming increasingly bold in their attacks and ransomware continues to be the preferred method of infiltration. Cybersecurity experts, however, are also adapting with the times by focusing on a previously overlooked aspect of ransomware attacks: dwell time.

According to cybersecurity news outlet Dark Reading, “dwell time” refers to “the length of time an interloper remains undetected inside the network.” They note that traditionally, ransomware attacks operate under “smash-and-grab” tactics. Where, once downloaded, malicious files attempt to encrypt as many files and workstations as possible. Now, though, these files are lingering, allowing operators to lurk in the shadows of a targeted network, studying how it operates and identifying valuable resources to exploit or hijack for bigger payoffs. Read more >

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Don’t Get Duped When Upgrading Your Utility Infrastructure

American City & County magazine recently published an article detailing the misadventures of Jackson, Mississippi’s attempt to upgrade their water meter and billing systems after signing a contract with Siemens, Inc. The contract (signed in December of 2012) was supposed to generate 120 million dollars in guaranteed savings. However, incorrectly installed water meters and syncing issues with the city’s wireless networks led to residential customers being heavily overcharged while some industrial customers never even received a bill. The city’s attempts to rectify these problems led to increased operating costs and no savings, despite Siemen’s guarantee.

Unsurprisingly, the City of Jackson sued Siemens and local subcontractors over the debacle. Read more >

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Schools Are Essential, Too

Despite the myriad of challenges that have arose in this doozy of a year, there have been a few net positives that have come along with it. Many essential services have remained functional or quickly adapted thanks to technological advances and the ease of remote work. Groups like the NLC have been lobbying for better municipal funding to improve existing local infrastructure, and long overdue conversations regarding policing and broader criminal justice reforms have become part of the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the way in which many schools have used the summer to come up with new ways to educate children and keep them safe at the same time. Read more >

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Big Data for Small Cities

US House Passes Moving Forward Act in a Bid to Improve Local Broadband Infrastructure

As a part of their Rebuild With Us campaign, the National League of Cities (NLC) announced that the US House of Representatives recently passed the Moving Forward Act, a bill designed to increase federal investment in broadband infrastructure on a municipal level. While the bill also includes investments in public safety, broadband consumer protections, affordability and digital equity, there is a significant focus on new provisions to help smaller cities that might be struggling. These provisions include building new or updating existing broadband infrastructure, allowing more flexibility when it comes to investing in local broadband, and prioritizing connectivity for rural areas. Read more >

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Cities Are Essential

According to the National League of Cities (NLC), despite the massive spending bills passed by Congress designed to aid states in battling the coronavirus outbreak, “there has been no direct aid provided to the majority of cities, towns and villages.” This is particularly concerning considering that the frontline for subduing the effects of the virus occurs primarily at the local level.

While businesses are beginning to reopen across the nation after a long shut down, local governments have continued to provide essential services because, as James Inman, City Manager for Bessemer City, NC notes in Southern City Magazine, “the water has to flow.”

Things might seem like they are getting back to normal, but the economic impact of coronavirus shutdowns cannot be understated for local governments. Read more >

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Workforce Confidence Index Poll Reflects Both Optimism and Worry

According to a recent Workforce Confidence Index poll conducted by LinkedIn, most people have an optimistic view about their ability to effectively work remotely, while a slightly smaller portion thinks their entire industry can. This is good news considering remote work is expected to stay, even as states slowly roll back economic restrictions due to COVID-19. The highest rates of optimism are found, unsurprisingly, in the software and IT sectors, followed closely by finance, media and communications. Public administration employees rank somewhere in the middle while tourism and retail bring up the rear. The results also show skepticism in other industries with an emphasis on in-person interaction, such as healthcare and manufacturing. Read more >

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The Importance of Civic Engagement Now More Than Ever

According to the National Research Center (NRC), data collected by the National Community Survey over the last 15 years shows that nearly 80% of residents expect their governments to provide opportunities for community engagement. But with most government offices closed and employees working from home due to the spread of COVID-19 and the adoption of social distancing guidelines, attending a board meeting or town hall is virtually impossible. The timing couldn’t be worse either since civic engagement is now more crucial than ever. As Senior Vice President of Innovation at Polco, Michelle Kobayashi, tells the NRC: “finding ways to connect with people when they are socially isolated…gives people a sense of empowerment…a sense of things they can do to make them feel like they have some control over the situation.”

Luckily, 90% of American adults are active online and the amount of public sector organizations using online tools to gather feedback is on the rise. Read more >

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