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State and local governments face looming cybersecurity threats but emerging tech may be able to address the issues

Cybersecurity in America is a complicated topic. Federal and state organizations rely on different network construction to protect valuable data. The federal government is heavily decentralized with each government agency responsible for its own protections and protocols. The lack of coordination between over 100 agencies is under scrutiny, however, by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

State governments are not decentralized to a point of potentially thwarting malevolent hackers. Local municipalities have a much more intimate tie to citizens and are responsible for much more of their data than the federal government. Over 20 municipalities have already fallen prey to ransomware attacks this year. There is a dire demand for qualified specialists in IT and cyber as the number of attacks is anticipated to surpass last year’s 54 affected cities and municipalities. The city of Baltimore will have to produce at least $18 million to bring back all necessary systems – the hackers had only demanded $80,000. The costliness of such attacks varies; the only guarantee is the continual ramping up of efforts by hackers to breach what they perceive as low-hanging fruit. Local municipalities simply don’t have the same resources as the federal governmentneither money nor talent—to sufficiently combat these threats. But new approaches are being explored in the face of such adversity. 

A few years ago, Brookings reported on how states were addressing and identifying the threat of cyber attacks between ‘weak,’ ‘aware but lacking details,’ ‘addressing the problem,’ and ‘leaders in the field.’ While most states acknowledged the problem at hand, most still have yet to move into a space in which they are actually addressing the problem at hand. Some states, however, are blazing trails for the rest to follow. New Mexico and Colorado both have a comprehensive, metrics-based approach to IT security. Brookings lauds Idaho and Mississippi for their “outstanding” focus on cybersecurity. They are largely seeking to reflect standards established by organizations like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for their cybersecurity frameworks. To address security concerns, the city of Memphis is turning to “ethical hackers” to hack into their systems and expose any flaws in their security system, GovTech recently reported. Hackers can submit any vulnerabilities, providing more proactive defense against attacks.

Incorporating advances in artificial intelligence (AI) into the cybersecurity conversation also provides a great deal of value to both firms and end-users. Security Boulevard refers to a market report by MarketsandMarkets which projects the market for AI in cybersecurity to reach $38 billion at a CAGR of 23.3 percent by 2026. This growth is anticipated as AI technology advances in tandem with other markets like the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. Cloud computing and cybersecurity threats are expected to increasingly grow, requiring AI technology to step in and assist in identifying any instances that deviate from the norm. 

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Not all states are on board, but a number of states are setting new bars in the wake of real cyber threats. Citizens rely on their government to protect them in a number of ways, including their personal data in an increasingly digital, globalized world. 

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