When he first started delving into denial of service attacks on 911 call centers, Jay English thought there might be a threat to the critical public safety systems.
At the time, English was director of Communications Center and 911 Services for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO), and as he looked deeper into the topic he found that these attacks were more widespread than he first thought and that a large percentage of public safety answering point (PSAP) officials were unaware of the threat. That set the stage for the last four years spent working to educate PSAP officials about the importance of cybersecurity and how to combat attacks.
At APCO, English worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) on a best practices document that yielded surprising feedback. “The request for information and sharing of information going out to PSAPs and public safety netted us an amazing return,” he said. “Where we thought we might have dozens of attacks targeting public safety infrastructure, we found we had more than 300 in a relatively short period of time.”
That set in motion a campaign to educate PSAP and public safety officials about denial of service attacks.
“From that point we’ve grown to a national program that encompasses associations like APCO, NENA, DHS, DOJ, the FBI and the National Fusion Center Association and have lots of resources that can be brought to bear when we have an event,” he said. “We have fostered what I believe is really an information-sharing environment that lets PSAPs know if there is an event through their associations.”
That information sharing continues for English at the DHS, where he began a new chapter in October 2016 to help guide the public sector on cybersecurity issues.