Tech Talk

As Water Utilities Move Online, Hackers Take Note

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report last year that showed the nation’s water grid, not just its electric grid, was also vulnerable to attacks by hackers. In fact, water utilities were most likely to have reported what DHS categorizes as an advanced persistent threat, which involves exploiting flaws in software programs that run water valves and controls, among other things. The worst kind of these attacks can go undetected for long periods of time.

Water utilities have in recent years -- like pretty much everything else -- become more reliant on the Internet to operate its networks of pipes and pumps. These controls can help monitor conditions around the clock and the benefits for both water and electrical utilities can be greater reliability and lower labor costs as fewer workers are needed to monitor the valves, controls and switches. READ MORE

Broadband Adoption Reaches a Standstill in Tech-Savvy Seattle

When it comes to expanding broadband Internet, Seattle has all the right ingredients for success. It has a highly educated workforce, a median household income that exceeds the state average, a local economy primed with technology jobs and a growing community of telecommuters. So it’s no surprise that the metro area has one of the nation’s highest rates of broadband adoption.

Nationally, 75 percent of households have broadband. In Seattle, the number is near 85 percent, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution. But progress has stalled in the Emerald City. The adoption rate has been stuck around 85 percent for the past several years -- and city officials are trying to understand why.  READ MORE

Can Technology Help Prevent Drug Overdoses?

On a recent morning in November, my local newspaper reported that an unusually pure form of heroin was circulating throughout our small Massachusetts community, triggering numerous overdoses. Ultimately, three young people died within a 24-hour period. Just a week earlier, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had revealed that deaths from drug overdoses had surpassed deaths from car crashes and from firearms each year since 2008. 

The rapid increase in overdose deaths has been relentless, and public health officials have scrambled for some kind of response to the problem. Among the best-known solutions are the prescription drug monitoring systems that virtually every state has set up to reduce drug abuse. These systems collect, monitor and analyze electronic prescriptions submitted by pharmacies and doctors, and can flag individuals who might be misusing or abusing painkiller medications. READ MORE

Can Cars That Park Themselves Reduce Traffic? Somerville, Mass., Will Find Out.

Trying to find a place to park downtown is often pretty hard. With too many cars chasing too few parking spaces, the result is too much congestion and pollution, not to mention the aggravation that goes with finding a place to park. As much as 30 percent of downtown traffic can be attributed to drivers circling streets in search of a spot, according to the International Parking Institute.

Parking garages help, but they're expensive. They can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per parking space, based on development and construction costs, and are usually subsidized, so drivers never pay the true cost to park, according to Norman Garrick, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut. READ MORE

Making Government Transparency More Transparent

Public records requests have surged in recent years, thanks in large part to the transparency and open data movements. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which has been evaluating transparency in state spending for six years, reported that 2015 saw dramatic improvements in how and how much information was provided online. The same goes for cities, where the number of open data sets accessible to the public has climbed since the Open Knowledge Foundation began tracking them in 2013.

But not everyone is riding the transparency wave, especially when it comes to the handling of public records requests. Take Massachusetts. In many ways, the state is a leader in transparency and open data efforts, but when it comes to its public records law, it’s another story. READ MORE

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