(TNS) -- With more than a billion records digitally stored on its network servers, Oneida County has a lot of data to protect.
Currently, the Department of Central Services oversees the county's information technology operations with a staff of 13 people whose job it is not only to safeguard data from attacks and breaches, but also to provide technical support to some 1,600 employees across multiple departments, offices and locations.
"Since I got here six-and-a-half years ago, we've just been in firefighting mode," said Anne B. Hartman, director of Central Services. "This printer's out. This user's down. You've got to set up this. You've got to move that. We have been working on the policies and procedures that we need for a good cybersecurity posture, but we never have time."
An assessment of the county's IT operations recently conducted by Annese & Associates in conjunction with Utica College's Cybersecurity Department, recommended that the staff level be increased by 27 to bring it in line with the industry standard of between 5 and 11 percent of its user base.
Hartman knows that adding that many employees is unlikely, but the Board of Legislators just this week approved the creation of two new management-level positions that pay more than $60,000 apiece, and a few more are expected to be granted as part of next year's budget.
The county's capital projects committee also recommended that Hartman's $1.1 million multipronged funding request to improve IT operations be included in the 2017 budget.
Based on the findings of the assessment — which was executive level and didn't delve into the system, but looked at polices and procedures and facilities — Hartman's funding would develop a program that would perform a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment, penetration testing, remediation and development of a cybersecurity policy and training program.
The money also would upgrade outdated switches at various county facilities that connect the County Office Building to the Northland Communications network and give the department the ability to isolate threats; upgrade hardware, software and network infrastructure; and continue the ongoing project of digitizing all of the county's records.
Hartman said the county has implemented a continuity of operations program this year, and soon will be setting up a second data center in Oriskany that will allow operations to shift there in case the data center at the County Office Building in Utica ever went down.
A backup plan also is in place in which data stored on a network in Utica is mirrored between a similar storage network in Oriskany, and data is backed up to disk and archived to tape so that it is saved in three locations, she said.
"I believe the data on the county network is very safe right now," Hartman said. "We have a staff of seasoned professionals who have put everything in place that we can think of to maintain the security of all of our data. In the next year we ... will increase the training of our staff, the training of our users and we will be doing testings to find out what it is we don't know. Anyone who sits blindly and and thinks their firewall is going to protect them is foolish."
County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said the likelihood of the Central Services capital project being funded in the 2017 budget is high, as he places the utmost importance on the security of the county's data and the efficiency of its network.
Picente said that in this day of cyberattacks in which hackers look to not only steal data and private information but also hold it for ransom, the county owes it to residents to protect them and ensure that their is no interruption to the services it provides.
"Some may say, 'It's just county government, what's the big deal?' but just one virus or breach is serious stuff," Picente said. "We are finally, after some years of upgrades, evolving that department into what it should be. Obviously anything can happen ... but we are doing what is necessary to shore things up."
©2016 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.