Government Technology News
Tue, 28 Mar 2017 23:30:35 +0200
FirstNet Board Votes to Progress with Contract Award, Decision Expected Within the Next Week
With legal impediments out of the way, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board voted during a special meeting on March 28 to grant the CEO the ability to award the $6.5 billion nationwide public safety broadband network contract.
The vote comes on the heels of a lengthy litigation process in which Rivada Mercury, a partnership of several companies created specifically for the FirstNet project, filed a lawsuit alleging it had been unfairly dismissed from the procurement process.
March 17, Federal Judge Elaine Kaplan, ruled in favor of the government, allowing the board to vote on the approval of the contract award. The end of the lawsuit and the board's unanimous decision on Resolution 84 (which allows for approval to complete acquisition of the nationwide public-safety broadband network [NPSBN]) officially opens the door for FirstNet CEO Mike Poth to finalize the award of the five-year, multi-billion-dollar contract to the yet-to-be-identified bidder.
#FirstNetBoard has unanimously passed resolution 84 authorizing CEO Mike Poth to move forward with contract award. �� pic.twitter.com/awKJBMTTWV
— FirstNet (@FirstNetGov) March 28, 2017
Given that AT&T was the only team that reached the “competitive range,” it is expected to sign a 25-year contract to build and maintain the NPSBN for $6.5 billion and access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum.
Though no official announcement has been made as of yet, Poth said at the meeting that he expects the award process to move quickly, possibly concluding within the next week. He jokingly called the action the “final step to the first rung in the ladder.”
FirstNet Board Chairwoman Susan Swenson called the action an “almost surreal,” “milestone moment” for the project that has been in the planning and development stages since receiving the legal backing from U.S. Congress in 2012.
“Going back to when the project first started, everybody told me that we would never reach this day. They said, ‘We have no idea how you’re going to get from Point A to this particular point,'" she said. "We still obviously have quite a bit of work to do, but this is a significant day in terms of moving us toward that.”
In spite of the generally celebratory mood surrounding the resolution’s approval, board members and attending stakeholders were quick to acknowledge the challenges on the path ahead. Among some of the topics broached during the hour-long meeting, members and attendees noted the need for comprehensive cybersecurity within the network, continued federal and state alignment, and the impending buildout in rural area over the coming years.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for our Special @FirstNetBoard mtg -time to get back to work! @IAFC #MajorCityChiefsAssoc #publicsafety pic.twitter.com/2u9Tt1inOW
— FirstNet (@FirstNetGov) March 28, 2017
During the public safety remarks period of the special meeting, officials from law enforcement and emergency response voiced their support for the nationwide broadband network and the benefits they believe it will bring to the public safety community.
At one point, board member Jeffrey Johnson said the network would bring the public safety community in line with modern capabilities, like text, photo and video. “Somewhere along the path, 14-year-old kids beat us,” he said of the technology currently in use by public safety personnel. “FirstNet will reset that standard and bring to public safety a world-class network — of public safety, by public safety, for public safety — and bring us applications, technology and performance, the likes of which public safety has never seen."
Despite the legal impediment that stalled the contracting aspects of the initiative, the board had taken other action to move the FirstNet project forward in recent months. In June 2016, the chief customer officer role was established, the fiscal 2017 budget was approved, as was a 100-day action plan. Swenson said the actions signal that the larger organization is ready for execution of the project.
In his comments on the recently resolved litigation, Chief Counsel Jason Karp called the court determination in the Rivada Mercury lawsuit a “momentous event” that cleared the last hurdle standing between the FirstNet team and the contract award. Karp went on to call the court decision a “win for public safety.”
Tue, 28 Mar 2017 09:40:00 PDT
The Quiet Public-Sector Disruptor: Building Stronger Cybersecurity Defenses (Industry Perspective)
2016 was the year cyberattacks shook the public sector. From the start, we witnessed sophisticated attacks that targeted government employees (both federal and the state) and politicians, and aimed to breach sensitive data and infiltrate organizations. Targets included city, county and state government organizations in communities like Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and El Paso, Texas.
The public sector has become a top target for cybercriminals who are interested in more than just financial gain. For example, attacks carried out by cybercriminals, such as the highly publicized phishing attack against Los Angeles County, which disclosed usernames and passwords of more than 756,000 Californians, were intended to compromise sensitive employee credentials. And when cybercriminals are successful — when federal employee emails are made public or when tens of thousands of Social Security numbers are stolen — people lose confidence in the government’s ability to secure their information.
Just as with hacks of private organizations, the impact is felt not just by those whose information is taken. The stolen data can now be used to launch attacks on a victim’s family members and friends. Consider how many times we list an emergency contact and include a name, phone number and email address. That person can now be contacted by an attacker posing as the person whose record was stolen. It’s that easy.
Despite the increasing magnitude of cyberthreats, however, government agencies are struggling to keep personal data and public infrastructure safe. According to a recent KPMG report that surveyed a pool of executive-level government officials and contractors, nearly 65 percent said the government as a whole cannot detect ongoing cyberattacks and 59 percent believe their agency currently struggles to understand how cyberattackers could potentially breach their systems.
Why is government failing to keep ahead of the criminals?
A Look at Cyberattack Trends
As we work with government agencies and private companies, we see cybercriminals creating increasingly sophisticated attacks by using contextual information, such as what is available on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, to understand company networks and employee interests, and then disguising themselves as a trusted source to trick victims into performing a desired action. For example, members of John Podesta’s staff were tricked into believing a fraudulent email was in fact legitimate and willingly clicked on a link, inviting the attackers in.
Standard defenses just don’t work. Attacks are specifically designed to work around awareness training, and even security professionals are challenged to identify today’s sophisticated phishing attacks. Spam filters, which examine bulk email for keywords, aren’t designed to detect these types of attacks, and most of these attacks don’t involve a virus that anti-virus software can detect.
That’s why these social engineering-based email attacks — which typically rely on identity deception, including spear phishing and business email compromise (BEC) — are the fastest growing security threat facing public and private organizations today. The FBI reported losses from BEC scams jumped from $2.3 billion (April 2016) to $3.1 billion (June 2016). One factor driving this increase is a “trickle-down effect.” It typically takes no more than a few weeks from the use of a new method in a high-value attack (such as a state-sponsored attack) until the same method is reused against enterprises — most likely because the same criminal organizations are behind both attacks.
So while the attackers are rapidly evolving their strategies and methods, government agencies and private companies are doing little to adjust their defenses.
Locking Down Email
Organizations should adopt email security technologies that focus specifically on preventing the more targeted, and increasingly popular spear phishing and BEC attacks. While firewalls and scanning for malware can aid with these defenses, the best solution is one that can identify the true identity of an email’s sender to detect and then block all fraudulent emails.
Given the global implications of recent cyberattacks, cybersecurity within the U.S. public sector needs to become a top priority. Government agencies need to stay informed of the latest cybersecurity trends and the innovative solutions available to protect against new threats. Attacks against this sector will only grow more sophisticated and more dangerous over the coming months if action is not taken soon. The government just needs to act — and fast.
Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:00:00 PDT
Florida Community Takes a Smart City Approach to Wellness
The developers of Lake Nona, Fla., like to think of themselves as a city within the larger city of Orlando. The 7,000-acre mixed-use planned community has housing that ranges from townhomes to estates. It has 10 million square feet of commercial space with gigabit connectivity.
Lake Nona also has wellness, with a 650-acre health and life sciences business park and a newly announced “wellness platform” designed to bring smart technologies to the table.
“How do we put legs on what healthy living means? What does a wellness community mean? We need to think about this in a way that is more holistic than what we have seen in other big master-planned communities,” said Gloria Caulfield, executive director of the Lake Nona Institute and vice president of strategic alliances at Tavistock Development Co.
A civic approach to wellness starts with data. To that end Tavistock teamed early on with Johnson and Johnson’s Wellness and Prevention Inc. to conduct a longitudinal research study on local health and wellness issues. Some 2,000 residents have signed on to be eligible.
“It will help us better understand prevention, wellness and health. It’s going to be everything from claims data to self-reported survey instruments to biometrics and potentially even genetic data over time,” Caulfield said.
The developers also have launched a WHIT initiative, addressing wellness, home innovation and technology. The effort aims to turn homes into “living laboratories” where residents can discover new technologies that address sleep, nutrition, chronic care and a range of other wellness variables.
“People simply want to live in a healthy home. They want an environment that helps to support their health status, but they don’t know how to go about it,” Caulfield said. “There is a drive to have a preventative slant to health care so everyone doesn’t end up crashing in these very expensive tertiary care facilities. So we want to look at how the home can contribute to that, what a home health dashboard might look like and how it could give residents actionable data at the right time.”
Institutionally, this mini-city supports its wellness drive with a health and life sciences cluster. Tenants include the University of Florida Research and Academic Center, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and the Florida Blue Innovation Center, a laboratory and incubation space for health-related endeavors.
The developers also have established their own nonprofit, the Lake Nona Institute, which focuses on innovative technologies and programs for building healthy, sustainable communities.
Most recently, Tavistock announced it would be rolling out a wellness initiative built on Jiyo, a comprehensive digital platform recently launched by health advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra. They are calling it a smart-cities approach to wellness.
“Lake Nona has offered us the unique opportunity to create the Internet of wellbeing, the global brain for creating a more peaceful, sustainable, healthier and more joyful world,” said Chopra in a press release.
More specifically, Joya will give developers a means to distribute needed health information. “We want to provide content and resources that have been vetted, that have strong trust and credibility,” Caulfield said.
The central element of the program will be an app that delivers curated wellness information and practical advice in small daily doses. Over time, the information will be tailored to the needs of the local community based at least in part on the findings of the Johnson and Johnson research.
“We are creating a customized community of content, a community within that app that will engage individuals in a range of programs, initiatives and content with a heavy focus on emotional well-being. We think of it as sort of a Facebook for health,” Caulfield said. The app will deliver bite-sized bits of information on sleep management, stress and nutrition. “The idea is not to thrust it at you in vast quantities, but to give you something actionable daily or weekly.”
Lake Nona is not the only master planned community to take on wellness as its theme.
In Liberty, Mo., for example developers are working on Norterre, whose offerings span the gamut from a Pilates studio to a short-stay rehabilitation facility. The master-planned community ATLAS, presently under development adjacent to the Texas A&M Health Science Center, also claims an emphasis on wellness.
In fact, with the aging of the baby boomers, some real-estate professionals have predicted wellness will be the predominant theme of future planned developments.
Cities hoping to leverage technology in support of wellness may find themselves looking to these master-planned communities for pointers — but these developers may enjoy certain advantages not available to city planners. In particular, they get to start with a clean slate, which may allow them to incorporate wellness technology from the ground up, rather than adding it into an existing landscape.
“What is most important is the recognition that as a person you are making dozens of decisions every day that can have a direct impact on your health and well-being.” Caulfield said. “Community development has to be done in such a way as to encourage the best possible decision-making for an individual. We want the healthy choice to be the default choice.”
She describes a simple example: Civic architecture that guides people to take the stairs by placing the elevators off to the side of the lobby rather than front and center. That’s a means to promote wellness that a developer can implement in a ground-up effort, but that a city might not be able to incorporate in existing facilities.
While the developers may have an edge in this regard, wellness nonetheless remains high on the agenda for many aspiring smart cities.
The Smart Cities Council describes how Dell Healthcare Services uses telehealth to help patients deal with transportation challenges and keep in touch with clinicians. Researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School are building the case for increase use of data to bolster public health.
“The increase in technology and data that will come with smart cities represents a huge opportunity for governments to change the way that health care is delivered,” blogs smart cities technologist Lucy Zodion. “The enhanced connectivity that will come with smart cities has the potential to make sure that health care services are truly meeting the needs of citizens.”
Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:00:00 PDT
Cincinnati Seeks Developers to Create Smart City Platform With Free Wi-Fi
Cincinnati, which last year updated its small-cell wireless facilities ordinance and released its CincyInsights portal to 15 different informational dashboards, is embarking on the creation of a smart city platform that will feature free or tiered-rate Wi-Fi for all residents.
On Tuesday, March 21, City Manager Harry Black and other officials announced the Smart Cities Phase 1 Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which is aimed at identifying a team of developers to deploy Wi-Fi or “wireline” broadband throughout the city beginning along the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar route. As the document points out, it has a plethora of “ducts, conduits and access to more than 370 poles” in 3.6 miles that run through the city center from the Banks to Findlay Market.
“We want your help to lay the groundwork for a smart-city grid in Cincinnati that is useful, cost effective, and opens doors to future innovations to benefit our citizens,” officials wrote in the RFQ.
The city is giving interested developers 45 days — until 12 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on May 5 — to submit their qualifications and describe their visions for what Black told Government Technology will be a “digital broadband superhighway that will have a series of on-ramps and exit ramps.”
After a city-appointed selection committee reviews submissions, Black said Cincinnati will issue its RFP, likely with a 30-day deadline — and with the goal of getting a network operational this summer.
An attorney who is assisting the city with the process told Government Technology that the tight timeline may not be doable — something applicants will likely clarify — but it is intended to convey the city’s dedication and its intent to move the process forward quickly.
The city manager said these next steps are essential, predicated on the idea that Cincinnati, like Louisville, Ky.; Columbus, Ohio; and other Midwestern municipalities exploring smart city concepts, is essentially competing for residents.
“With the dashboards, we’re letting them touch and see their government and the work that we do,” Black said, referring to CincyInsights. “This is another way of reaching out to our various constituent groups and trying to provide value to them... The key is we have to make the Cincinnati experience a very valuable one. That people seek out."
At the March 21 press conference, broadcast through Facebook Live, City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld noted the first-ever smart cities working group he convened recognized that peer cities are beginning to outpace Cincinnati.
"While Cincinnati can absolutely excel against any competition, we can't do it if we're standing still," he said. "A smart future is about everything from closing that digital divide once and for all to achieving a more data-driven government."
The councilmember highlighted public trash cans that alert the city when they're full and traffic lights that manage vehicles in real time as examples of modern civic technology that could follow an update like citywide wireless access.
"This is not some science fiction. All of that is within our grasp and indeed some of it has already come our way," said Sittenfeld, emphasizing that Cincinnati must update its mindset along with infrastructure.
Cincinnati’s initiative, Black said, is the best, most effective path by which to pursue “a smart cities vision,” establishing the primary infrastructure needed to connect government with its customers, the city’s residents and visitors, via digital broadband.
It’s envisioned as a public-private partnership between the city and a team of developers — companies, Black said, like Cisco, IBM and GTE — that will connect educational, arts and business communities, and provide a return on investments to all.
The RFQ asks developers to detail a build-out schedule; specify the city’s role, project costs and when the network would turn a profit; and “discuss how and when the profits generated from their proposed network would be shared with the city.”
The network they would create is intended to stimulate commercial, noncommercial and public benefits.
Broadband engineer Dr. Jonathan Kramer, an attorney at Los Angeles-based Telecom Law Firm, P.C. which is advising Cincinnati, said the project has the potential to bridge the digital divide.
Cincinnati, Kramer said, can “do a very, very good job” of making public information available — but will look to its partners to bring access to “other things like navigational aids, educational aids, financial tools.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time refining the RFQ to not just do a normal type of public solicitation but to solicit, really, innovation,” Kramer said. “What we’re looking at is the next level of that service, which is the high-speed, frequent service, high utilization. Using the rail analogy, we want to bring the high-speed trains into Cincinnati. This is a great place to try out interesting ideas."
Mon, 27 Mar 2017 05:00:00 PDT
New Facebook Tools Make It Easier to Contact Politicians
Facebook has added a tool that facilitates easy communication between users and the elected officials who represent them — a move that comes less than six months after the election of President Donald Trump sparked an increase in activism, protests and civic engagement.
This feature, dubbed Town Hall, prompts users to enter their address, before delivering a list of their elected officials, from local councilmembers up to the president. With a few clicks, or taps of their finger, users can follow the relevant politicians. With a few more, they can get in touch via email, mail, phone and even Facebook Messenger.
The tool is located beneath the "explore" section of the social network’s News Feed on a desktop, or in the menu of Facebook’s app on phones. In a post on Monday, March 27, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced and elaborated upon the Town Hall feature.
“Building a civically-engaged community means building new tools to help people engage in a thoughtful and informed way,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The starting point is knowing who represents you and how you can make your voice heard on the decisions that affect your life. The more you engage with the political process, the more you can ensure it reflects your values. This is an important part of feeling connected to your community and your democracy, and it’s something we’re increasingly focused on at Facebook.”
While other technologists have created apps and platforms aimed at fostering better communication between the public and those who govern them, Facebook is by far the largest and most prominent. Within six hours of Zuckerberg publishing the announcement post, more than 51,000 users had reacted to it.
While it, of course, remains to be seen whether this will make a significant different in the political process, previous efforts by the social media giant have done so. In September 2016, the Georgia secretary of state’s office reported that it saw a 2,255 percent increase in Online Voter Registration System hits over the previous year after Facebook launched a voter registration reminder in user news feeds. A similar reminder reaped tangible benefits for engagement in California.
Despite these efforts, however, voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election reached close to its lowest point in two decades.
Mon, 27 Mar 2017 09:59:00 PDT