How the City of Angels is Tackling Cyber Devilry

A new mobile app makes a cybersecurity threat lab available to more small businesses in Los Angeles.

(Image: likozor via Adobe Stock)

(Image: likozor via Adobe Stock)

Electricity. Water. Law enforcement. These are services companies and individuals expect to receive from municipal governments. The City of Los Angeles is adding another service to the list: cybersecurity intelligence. And some think the project by the City of Angels could be the model for other US cities to emulate in expanding the services they offer to their own citizens.

Since August 2017, the LA Cyber Lab has been providing cybersecurity assistance to small and midsize businesses in the city. By sharing threat information and providing training opportunities, the Cyber Lab has tried to provide smaller organizations with some of the cybersecurity advantages that larger organizations can afford.

In the first two years of the Lab’s operation, it built a standardized platform for accepting information from participating organizations and automating threat analysis reporting to those companies. Hundreds of organizations have participated in the program that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs the Lab’s board of advisers, has said is critical for addressing cybersecurity with the appropriate sense of urgency.

Now the Cyber Lab has expanded its capabilities and mission with the introduction of a mobile platform that can be accessed by businesses and individuals.

“We’ve got a mobile platform that citizens can log onto, can become members [of the LA Cyber Lab], and ultimately do things like submit pieces of mail that might be suspicious and then actually get information back that typically would only be shared more in a corporate setting,” says Wendi Whitmore, vice president of X-Force Threat Intelligence at IBM Security.

IBM Security is a partner in the Cyber Lab. While there is obviously a financial relationship, Whitmore says each enjoys side benefits from IBM’s participation in other ways. IBM Security provides the analytical platform the lab uses for generating its reports, and Whitmore says the data from Cyber Lab clients enhances the global data set X-Force analysts use in their work.

For the past two years, clients have been able to share internal company data — like login data, internal Web traffic, and user account activity — with the Cyber Lab. In the workflow until last month, Lab analysts would then review the shared data, looking for various indicators of compromise, such as data that shows a compromised user account or phishing links in email messages.

Notice of a compromise would then be sent in an email message — one of a series of email messages sent approximately five times a week. With the new mobile and Web-based system, messages can be forwarded via an app to the lab, which will then notify the client of compromise via the app within a few hours.

All of the analysis and threat indication is provided at no cost to businesses in Los Angeles. In conversations at Black Hat USA 2019, lab management stressed that the lab and its free nature is a recognition of the importance of small businesses in the economy of the city. And that importance is not limited to Los Angeles.

“I think the goal for everyone in this project is it really becomes a great example and a benchmark for other cities to learn from and take on,” Whitmore says. While there are other municipal cybersecurity programs, like New York City’s Cyber NYC, most of these focus on growing the local cybersecurity industry and workforce, not protecting local small businesses.

As threats like ransomware become more devastating for small businesses and small government units, other governments may well look to Los Angeles as a model. The real question may be which governments can afford to offer this particular service to their citizens — and which groups of citizens are willing to pay for the service through their taxes.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading.

Curtis Franklin Jr.
Curtis Franklin Jr.
Edge Articles

Spam in Your Calendar? Here’s What To Do.

Many spam trends are cyclical: Spammers tend to switch tactics when one method of hijacking your time and attention stops working. But periodically they circle back to old tricks, and few spam trends are as perennial as calendar spam, in which invitations to click on dodgy links show up unbidden in your digital calendar application from AppleGoogle and Microsoft. Here’s a brief primer on what you can do about it.

Image: Reddit

Over the past few weeks, a good number of readers have written in to say they feared their calendar app or email account was hacked after noticing a spammy event had been added to their calendars.

The truth is, all that a spammer needs to add an unwelcome appointment to your calendar is the email address tied to your calendar account. That’s because the calendar applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are set by default to accept calendar invites from anyone.

Calendar invites from spammers run the gamut from ads for porn or pharmacy sites, to claims of an unexpected financial windfall or “free” items of value, to outright phishing attacks and malware lures. The important thing is that you don’t click on any links embedded in these appointments. And resist the temptation to respond to such invitations by selecting “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” as doing so may only serve to guarantee you more calendar spam.

Fortunately, the are a few simple steps you can take that should help minimize this nuisance. To stop events from being automatically added to your Google calendar:

-Open the Calendar application, and click the gear icon to get to the Calendar Settings page.
-Under “Event Settings,” change the default setting to “No, only show invitations to which I have responded.”

To prevent events from automatically being added to your Microsoft Outlook calendar, click the gear icon in the upper right corner of Outlook to open the settings menu, and then scroll down and select “View all Outlook settings.” From there:

-Click “Calendar,” then “Events from email.”
-Change the default setting for each type of reservation settings to “Only show event summaries in email.”

For Apple calendar users, log in to your iCloud.com account, and select Calendar.

-Click the gear icon in the lower left corner of the Calendar application, and select “Preferences.”
-Click the “Advanced” tab at the top of the box that appears.
-Change the default setting to “Email to [your email here].”

Making these changes will mean that any events your email provider previously added to your calendar automatically by scanning your inbox for certain types of messages from common events — such as making hotel, dining, plane or train reservations, or paying recurring bills — may no longer be added for you. Spammy calendar invitations may still show up via email; in the event they do, make sure to mark the missives as spam.

by Krebs on Security