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Los Angeles Launches Cybersecurity Lab to Aid Local Businesses

The city aims to share its extensive cyberdefense efforts with businesses throughout the region.

In an average day, Los Angeles’ municipal government analyzes more than 1 billion cybersecurity-related events, automatically blocking about 4 million attacks on its own systems as a result. Now, city officials want to share with businesses throughout their community the effective measures that keep Los Angeles from being victimized.

To this end, they’ve launched the Los Angeles Cyber Lab, a city-based resource to dole out the info and intelligence on which the local government relies each day to prevent intrusions into its own network. The lab, which is the first of its kind in the nation, is a public-private partnership between Los Angeles and Cisco, with an advisory board that includes representatives from a host of companies, including Amazon, Motorola and Microsoft.

Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross told Government Technology about the lab, who it aims to help and how, and about the potential for cybersecurity assistance to become a standard service that major city governments provide to local businesses across the country.

“Taking the resources that the city of Los Angeles is already paying for to protect ourselves, and making them available at no cost to L.A. businesses, it just seems like the right thing to do,” Ross said. “If we can help small-, medium- and large-sized businesses protect themselves against cybercriminals, then I think we’re really helping move the needle, and I think our constituents are getting even more out of their government.”

These resources are specifically coming from Los Angeles’ Integrated Security Operations Center. Ross broke the major functions of the lab at launch down into three categories: cybereducation, threat intelligence and providing an innovation incubator — “a physical space where businesses can try security products before they buy.”

While the lab does have resources to offer larger businesses, including automated updates to their own cyberdefense systems, Ross emphasized how beneficial it will be for small- and medium-sized businesses throughout the Los Angeles region, noting that those organizations rarely have the resources for security officers.

Ross also noted cyberattacks can be silent crimes that go unreported. Instead, owners just pay costs associated with ransomware or other hacking and move on. In some instances, however, such expenditures can be crippling.

“In the year 2017, we’re a highly automated, highly online society,” Ross said. “We’re tremendously reliant on our technology. Cyberthreats and the changing cyberthreat landscape is a challenge and it’s a danger to that way of life. Hacking can have tremendously negative impacts on a business. Small businesses are going from pay period to pay period, and they may not have the capital to survive it.”

The lab builds on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive directive that created a Cyber Intrusion Command Center in 2013 to lead cybersecurity preparation across the city's many departments. Part of the new lab’s function is to alert local businesses of attacks as they occur, at no cost or obligation for membership. The long-term plan for the lab calls for it to evolve into a mutual exchange of threat information between government and the private sector.

Los Angeles ranks as one of the first cities in the country to share its cyberthreat data with the public in this way. This model is akin to what’s been happening in the open data arena for years, where the data sets and platforms used by cities are open source and publicized for anyone who wants to benefit from the resources that went into creating them.

This sort of cybersecurity coaching conducted by government is more prevalent at the federal level. Dating back to 2015, the National Guard Bureau has deployed cyberprotection teams. At the state level, this sort of support is also becoming more prevalent, with Georgia, for example, investing in the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center that is slated to launch in July 2018. That center will be a place where local government officials in Georgia can go for training, as well as for using a cyber-range. The cyber-range, which is common in the private sector, is where users can test defenses against practice attack scenarios.

In terms of city-based efforts, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order in July to establish that city’s first Cyber Command, which is a unit that will set information security and policy standards while also responding to cyberincidents. What’s unique about Los Angeles' new lab is that, among other things, it places such a heavy emphasis on the collaboration aspects inherent to the incubator, which will launch in full in 2018. The city has plans to invite a wide range of stakeholders to share information and resources through this incubator.

“Our ability to share with each other makes both of us better,” Ross said. “The reality is, bad guys have constantly been working together in the area of cybersecurity, and now, using our city government, we’re having the good guys work together to help in the defenses.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.