3 Ways NYC Is Looking to Change US Privacy and Cybersecurity

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3 Ways NYC Is Looking to Change US Privacy and Cybersecurity

Some bold moves in cybersecurity are coming out of the Big Apple. As the federal government and individual states (here’s looking at you, California) continue to take steps in the direction of taming the wild, wild web, New York City is stepping to the forefront of municipalities like Boston and Washington, D.C., who are actively taking the issue of cybersecurity into their own hands.

Here are three ways that the city is looking to impact privacy and cybersecurity within its borders and potentially beyond.

The Launch of Cyber NYC

Early last week, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced the launch of Cyber NYC, an initiative armed with nothing but a humble dream to grow the cybersecurity sector and roughly $100 million in financing (a $30 million city investment plus an additional $70 million in private funding).

There’s a “why” somewhere in there, and the answer has to do with threats that are multiplying faster than the number of people equipped to deal with them. According to the NYCEDC, over 3.8 million internet users were affected by cybersecurity attacks in 2017, and the talent gap in cybersecurity is expected to grow to an estimated 3.5 million empty jobs by 2021.

“New York City needs to be ambitious about cybersecurity because our future depends on it,” said James Patchett, NYCEDC president and CEO.

The city is already home to about 6,000 employees spread out over 100 firms specializing in cybersecurity. Cyber NYC looks to bring another 10,000  jobs to the sector through its Applied Learning Initiative and Cyber Boot Camp.

Maya Worman of NYC Cyber Command said education and understanding have a role to play when trying to address a global problem on a citywide scale—and New York City’s approach might not work for everyone.

“I think that the holistic approach that we’ve got in place in New York City will work in New York City. I think that what I’m seeing, what I’m learning, is that obviously every city’s approach to municipal government is tailor-fit to those specific needs and services, population density and challenges within that,” Worman said.

A First of Its Kind Mobile Threat Detection App

Getting excited about an app in 2018 is sort of like getting excited about color television in 1998, but in this case exceptions might have to be made. NYC Secure is a city-funded mobile threat detection program available to New Yorkers free of charge in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

Worman can’t say with absolute certainty that the app is the first of its kind, but she does think its focus on privacy might separate it from other free municipality-developed iOS and Android mobile security programs on the market.

“We wanted to show that you can have security protection and also maintain personal privacy at the same time. And that, I think, has been missing from the conversation, and I think it’s definitely not top of mind for people who aren’t in the industry and aren’t tech savvy. I think maybe people are used to sacrificing privacy and maybe aren’t even realizing they’re doing it,” Worman said.

NYC Secure doesn’t require an internet connection to detect threats. Once a threat is detected, there’s no action that is undertaken without first attaining user consent. The app wants users to go through the work of evaluating the risks associated with joining, say, a potentially unsecure network all on their own. If that philosophy has legs beyond the city limits, then all the better.

“I think municipal governments thinking about ways that they can empower people specific to personal cybersecurity protection, we would like that to catch on. We think the app is good, and we think the app matters, and if it works in another city, for another city, that’s great. But it’s a larger vision of what this city wants to do for the people that live in it, work in it, across it. We want them to think about how they can manage risk,” Worman said.

Automated Decision-Making Systems Task Force

Algorithms can reflect the inherent biases of the humans and data sets that created them. So New York is trying to figure out exactly what that means for the AI decision-making systems at work throughout city government.

The New York City Automated Decisions Systems task force comprised of lawyers, government leaders, academics and tech experts was announced earlier this year and is expected to deliver its findings by December.

“Fairness and equity are at the heart of human rights, and we are pleased to be partnering with leaders in and out of government to make sure city government itself aligns with these core values,” Carmelyn Malalis, chair and commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, said.

The group will be looking at how decision-making systems are used within the New York City Police Department, the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Social Services among other parts of the city’s infrastructure.

Malalis said the task force wants to ensure “equity” and “fairness” in the use of algorithmic tools. Bias can occur within the actual data itself or how it’s used inside the algorithm—and those issues aren’t exclusive to New York.

Last May, for instance, a judge in Arkansas ordered the state’s Department of Human Services to cease using a decision-making system that cut the number of attendant care allocated to disabled Medicaid beneficiaries. The ruling, which was in response to a lawsuit by Legal Aid Arkansas, required the state to first submit the algorithms for public comment and review by the state Legislature before going into effect.