Aurora, Ill., Works to Bolster Its Cybersecurity Planning

As Aurora, Ill., looks to build a new cybersecurity plan, officials in the city outside of Chicago are saying they think what they do there could become a model for municipalities across the country.

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(TNS) — Aurora, Ill., is looking at a cyber security plan that city officials said could be a model for municipalities across the country.

At the moment, City Council members will be asked to double the contract with Data Defenders, LLC, of Chicago, a computer security firm, from $1.6 million to about $3.2 million, over five years. The City Council Committee of the Whole will look at the contract amendment at its meeting Tuesday.

Members of the council’s Information and Technology Committee recently recommended the contract amendment.

The idea is to put a full 24-hour, seven-days-a-week set of eyes on all the city’s technology systems, most notably the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition infrastructure, known as SCADA.

“The city of Aurora, thanks to the City Council, is leading the way in this,” said Michael Pegues, the city’s chief information technology officer. “I do not know another entity that is 24/7.”

Cyrus Walker, of Data Defenders, said the program would be "a new approach," more comprehensive than what is being done anywhere else in the country.

“There are municipalities that are doing pieces and parts of this,” he said. “It’s a trend that is picking up.”

Walker said SCADA systems “are under heavy attack across the world.”

In a situation in Florida in February, a hacker broke into the system for a countywide water facility and changed the mix of hydrochloride in the water. An operator noticed the change before it went online. Otherwise, “it would have been catastrophic,” Walker said.

Part of the $1.6 million increase in Aurora’s contract would cover the water treatment facility, city officials said.

The city entered into an agreement with Data Defenders for part of the city’s SCADA systems last year, but anticipated coming back to cover the water treatment facility, Pegues said.

Martin Lyons, the city’s chief financial officer, said the city budgeted $750,000 in 2021 to cover the security contract costs. For this amendment, the city will have to shift some funds around from different line items to cover the water treatment facility’s share of the costs.

Lyons said in 2022, the city would increase the water treatment costs to cover its share of the security contract. But that will lower how much is being paid out of the general fund.

“This is an insurance policy that we cannot afford not to have,” said Lyons. “We have a lot of assets to protect.”

Ald. Ted Mesiacos, 3rd Ward, asked what kind of coverage the city gets for its money. He said how does the city know it’s protected “if we get a super-smart hacker.”

Lyons said there’s not a “no-hacker-or-your-money-back guarantee.” But he said the money guarantees the city has the highest level of protection possible, as well as the highest-rated insurance if something does happen.

Beside the protection, the contract with Data Defenders guarantees the city will spend less time and money getting its systems fixed and back up online in the event of a problem, officials said.

“We have sufficient funds because we think this is the smart money alternative,” Lyons said. “Other options would actually be more expensive.”

(c)2021 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.