NY creates center to defend against cyberattacks

NY+cybersecurity

New York National Guard, Sgt. Sebastian Rothwyn | Flickr

Judah Duke

New York created a statewide collaborative cybersecurity task force after assessing a potential increase in cyberattacks on vulnerable government systems.

“Technology runs our water, controls our electricity, and notifies us during an emergency, so cyberattacks have the ability to bring our entire city to a halt if we are not prepared,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a press release.

The Joint Security Operations Center, headquartered in downtown Brooklyn, is the first of its kind to bring together city, state and federal law enforcement officials to better prepare for potential disruptions of civil infrastructure through cyber exploitation.

New York City Cyber Command, or NYC3, was established for the same reason in the summer of 2017. Its focus is similar, training city employees through partnerships that utilize the latest technology, but it doesn’t span across the state like the new JSOC.

Joining Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, New York City will partner with the state and the federal government to share data within a single centralized network that will become operational over the next few months.

President Joe Biden warned recently that new U.S. intelligence indicates a threat of Russian cyberattacks on American systems.

“The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming,” Biden said in a statement on March 21.

Rising tensions between the United States and Russia amid the war in Ukraine has increased the risk of cyberattacks, making city officials cautious. New York City was recently placed on “ultra-high alert,” a status suggesting the city’s vulnerability to attacks by state-backed actors.

Even before the invasion of Ukraine, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had been in contact with the Biden administration and was told to make preparations.

“The White House thought it was important enough to let governors know to be prepared,” Hochul said. “We’re on notice of what they could do to dismantle our systems.”

The day before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, a mass distributed denial of service attacks, or DDoS, struck several Ukrainian government agencies, bringing their websites offline.

Russian cyber power has since led numerous U.S. government officials to call for new crosssystem coordination to safeguard critical networks from being targets of foreign powers.

The biggest malware threat, however, may not necessarily be an attack targeting government systems.

According to NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, 85% of the city’s essential infrastructure, including water, energy and transport, is privately run.

Though plans were announced for the New York JSOC in late February 2022, the FBI reported on March 18 that systems in five of U.S.’s main energy producers had already been scanned by over 140 different Russian IP addresses, numeric designations that can be traced back to computers connected to the internet.

“This scanning activity has increased since the start of the Russia/Ukraine conflict, leading to a greater possibility of future intrusions,” an inter-agency bulletin acquired by CBS News noted. “While the FBI recognizes that scanning activity is common on a network, these reported IPs have been previously identified as conducting activity in conjunction with active exploitation of a foreign victim, which resulted in destruction of the victim’s systems.”

Experts take these observations seriously, as scanning is a common preparatory step in the first phase of a serious cyberattack.

FBI Director Christopher Wray voiced his concerns as suspicious activity was later reported in the networks of at least 23 American companies as well.

“Most cyberattacks don’t just happen in an instant. There’s activity that leads up to it. There’s scanning and researching, researching a victim, scanning for vulnerabilities and systems. There’s developing access to those systems,” Wray explained to the Detroit Economic Club on March 22. “So, there’s a whole range of preparatory work, which is what we’ve been seeing.”

The JSOC was created in hopes of improving monitoring and assessment of threats to the government’s array of communications and technology systems. Hochul’s proposal for this year’s state budget includes $61.9 million for cybersecurity, doubling last year’s investment.

The proposal also includes a $30 million “shared services” program that aims to give local municipalities a leg up on digital incidents. It plans to enable government officials across the region to “acquire and deploy high quality cybersecurity services to bolster their cyber defenses,” according to the JSOC press release on New York State’s website.