Tech Talk

States Approach Federal Data Breach Law with Caution

When hackers made their way past hardware giant Home Depot’s security system last month, gaining access to credit card information for up to 60 million customers, it was considered the mother of all data breaches. But it’s only the latest in a growing series of hacking scandals. Between 2005 and 2014, there have been 4,695 breaches exposing 633 million records, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. The average cost of a breach to an organization is estimated at $3.5 million.

With no national data breach disclosure law on the books, retailers such as Home Depot, Target and Neiman Marcus (which were both victims of massive breaches last year) are forced to adhere to a patchwork of 47 state laws. Those laws vary in terms of who must comply, what defines personal information, what constitutes a breach and who must be notified. It’s led to a growing chorus of critics who say it’s time for a national standard. READ MORE

Coming Soon to a Government Near You: Cloud Computing

When cloud computing first emerged, government officials viewed it with some skepticism. Long accustomed to owning and controlling all of their IT hardware, software and networks, states and localities didn’t take very seriously the idea that they could, for a monthly fee, simply stream pretty much everything to a worker’s desktop. Delivering a Netflix movie was one thing, the argument went, but a robust data management system was quite another.

What a difference a fiscal meltdown can make. When the recession hit Oakland County, Mich., in 2009, it lost 60,000 jobs in one year and saw the taxable value of its real estate shrink by 25 percent over the next two, according to Phil Bertolini, the county’s chief information officer. “That put extreme pressure on our revenue stream,” he says. READ MORE

Texting 911: The Tech Is There but Cities Aren't Ready

With more than 80 percent of Americans using their cellphones to send and receive text messages, it only makes sense we should be able to text 911 in an emergency. But that ability is only now just coming online and there’s still a lot of work to do before it’s universal: Only 100 call centers out of more than 6,000 across the country are capable of receiving and responding to text messages.

Now that America’s four major wireless phone carriers have agreed to support text-to-911, however, expect to see the number of call centers accepting text messages grow rapidly, says Trey Forgety, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “Nearly everyone is either working to move to text-to-911 or is planning how they are going to do it,” he says. READ MORE

A Quick Way to Build a Wireless Network

What do Sayada, Tunisia, and Red Hook, Brooklyn, have in common? At first glance, not much. One is a fishing town on the Mediterranean Sea. The other is a waterfront neighborhood in an industrial section of America’s largest city. But both are using a networking technology that is cheap, relatively easy to set up, and remarkably resilient and secure.

Called a mesh network, the technology lets users connect directly to each other rather than through a central hub. For the citizens of Sayada, that means they can create a community network free from government surveillance or interference. For residents of Red Hook, the local mesh network helps them stay connected during power outages. READ MORE

NYC’s Simple Plan for Reducing IT Fraud and Waste

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer doesn’t mince words when describing the city’s problem with IT consulting costs and contracts. “We’ve seen millions of taxpayer dollars misspent because of a lack of oversight and accountability,” he says. One of his favorite examples of this is when contractors working on overhauling the 911 system billed the city $147 an hour to remove waterbugs from a bathroom and to photocopy conference room calendars.

But the city’s problems with IT contracts go way beyond timesheet issues. In 2012, contractor SAIC agreed to pay the city a record $500 million in penalties for a failed automated payroll system, the cost of which ballooned from $73 million to more than $700 million before it was shut down. The U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case -- which was ultimately settled -- called the project “a fraudsters’ field day that lasted seven years.” READ MORE