How Secure Is Naperville’s Online Network?

It was just a little over three years ago that the City of Naperville’s online network was hacked. So what exactly have city officials learned from the embarrassing experience and how secure is the network now? The answers could be ‘not very much’ and ‘not very’.

We won’t know for sure until it happens again, and it will happen. Government officials have a tendency to invite problems with grandiose statements and reassurance that everything is under control.

When Naperville’s network was hacked in October 2012, it cost the residents of Naperville well over a half-million dollars after insurance, and the system was down for over a month. Ironically, on the day of the hacking, the Naperville city council had a meeting that night, and residents were expressing their concerns about the lack of security within the smart meter system. City officials assured residents that security was not a concern. They said this without ever mentioning during the meeting that the city website network had just been hacked. As if residents wouldn’t notice it while it was down.

That’s the problem with government; they do very little to build trust with their constituency. Is it any wonder why a large segment of Napervillians still have concern about the City’s smart meter system. Fewer and fewer people are buying into the rhetoric when government officials say ‘everything is OK’, so it must be OK. Unfortunately when city officials tell residents to ‘look to the right’, they’d better ‘look to the left’.

City officials tend to think that residents can’t handle the truth, when in fact, what residents can’t handle is deceit and mis-information. City officials need to have the courage to level with residents, and tell it like it is, not cover issues up or make no mention of things that concern residents. City officials have a bully pulpit to share information on the city website, during city council meetings, or through local media, but all too often unpleasant topics are unaddressed, as if they aren’t happening.

Which gets us back to the City’s online network. For city officials to reassure residents that the system can’t be hacked, is an invitation for low level hackers to take on the challenge. Sophisticated hackers can crack into any network. If they can get into the IRS and pentagon networks, they surely could get into Naperville’s. The so-called ‘major league’ hackers have much larger targets in mind than Naperville. The City of Naperville’s network is ‘little league training ground’ just waiting for some clever high school kid to say, “hey guys look what I just did”, and Naperville’s system is down again.

When the Target Corporation network was hacked a few years ago, CEO Gregg Steinhafel took the hit, and departed Target within a year. When it happened to the City of Naperville, the IT department was given a standing ovation during a city council meeting, and undoubtedly another monetary raise at the end of the year. Nobody was held accountable.

Now we have a ‘new’ city council and a new mayor with a strong business-style approach to getting things done. The question isn’t whether or not the city network will be hacked, the question is, does the city have a Plan-B to deal with it. Time will tell.

If Naperville’s IT department is not getting better faster than the hackers are getting better, then Naperville better have more than just a Plan-B.

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