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Year in review: GCN's top tools and tactics for government IT managers

GCN's coverage spans federal, state and local government, highlighting emerging tech, proven tactics and a wide range of tools for public sector IT managers.  This year saw plenty of all three, with consumer technologies flowing into government offices on one end and fascinating advances on the leading edge of computing.

Here are some of our favorite themes and stories from this year:

Cyber, cyber, cyber

Explainer: How malware gets inside your apps
Malware can be inserted by attackers who modify apps and republish them, by compromised in-app advertising or by corrupted development tools.

Computing with encrypted data
Researchers are working on ways to optimize fully homomorphic encryption, which allows manipulation of encrypted data for real-world applications.

Locking down containers
IARPA’s Virtuous User Environment program aims to define and develop cryptographically secure containerized user environments that can operate in a range of different commercial clouds.

Shining light on the darknet
DarkSum crawls the darknet, indexing its content and making it viewable. It then applies machine-learning filters to categorize and prioritize content for threats.  Finally, a human analyst reviews the potential threats and, when called for, issues a report to clients.

Rise of the machine

What’s AI, and what’s not
“When someone talks about AI, or machine learning, or deep convolutional networks, what they’re really talking about is … a lot of carefully manicured math,” one industry watcher wrote. In fact, he said, the cost of a bit of fancy supercomputing is mainly what stands in the way of using AI in devices like phones or sensors that now boast comparatively little brain power.

Machine learning tool helps county detect cyber risks
Officials in Livingston County, Mich., turned to a machine learning tool that can find anomalies in user and device behaviors without previous knowledge of what to look for. They plugged it in and let it run for three weeks so that it could learn about the network’s typical behavior, establishing what’s called a “pattern of life.” Then when the system detects something out of the ordinary, an alert is issued in real time.

Automating vital (but boring) back-office operations
NASA Shared Services Center automated the creation of personnel cases in its human resources system for new hires and position transfers. The bot receives an auto-generated email message when a new action is required and then copies personnel data and creates a new case in the system to initiate subsequent processing actions.

Deep-learning tools surpass humans in analyzing images
Researchers are using big data analysis on images and videos for a variety of purposes, from managing traffic and detecting autism in children to providing warning of imminent landslides. “Computers never get tired of looking at near-identical images and may be capable of noticing even the tiniest nuances that we humans cannot see,” researcher Eirik Thorsnes said.  

IT moves downstream

Digital transformation via low-code options
Low-code platforms minimize the amount of coding a non-expert must do to build an application. They automate routine and basic business applications and processes so that agencies don’t have to craft software from scratch themselves -- helping to democratize the application-development process.

Low-cost video tools for opening government
The Government Self-Service Toolkit helps live-stream public meetings and provides automated transcriptions and searchable archival storage. To use the toolkit, governments need only a camera that can capture audio and video; the software is compatible with highest-end video cameras or those built into a cell phone or tablet.

Army HQ keeps work on track with collaborative task management tool
The Task Management Tool gives users a common place to store and manage documents so that at any given time, anybody involved in a task knows what's going on with it, who else is working on it and what they’re doing. It’s powered by Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint, so to-do items can come in via Outlook and be turned into a trackable task with a click.

City turns mapping services into digital do-it-yourself
Frederick, Md., has made the process of getting GIS data about the city into a digital do-it-yourself service for consumers and government users.

Tech for good

City enlists Instagram in blight cleanup
Mobile, Ala., turned to Instagram to address blight and put the city on track to restore at least $10 million in real estate equity by the end of this year. City officials downloaded the popular photo-sharing app to their city-issued cell phones and began snapping pictures of rundown properties. They then created a complementary mobile app that lets them categorize and respond properly to each blighted property.

Making graphics accessible to the visually impaired
A new web browser extension that is helping visually impaired workers regain independence at the office. The tool monitors graphs in webpages, and when it finds one created with a particular solution, it alerts a vision-impaired user via an earcon, a piano sound in this case. Users can then hear a description of the graph to find out basic information, such as what type of graph it is and its title.

ODmap gives responders real-time overdose data
The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program is a web-based tool that first responders and public health and safety chiefs can use to track spikes in fatal and nonfatal overdoses in real time. Geocoded information about overdoses is sent from responders' smartphones to a secure server where it can be analyzed by authorized personnel.

Virtual reality

Accelerating virtual reality in government
As VR technology makes its way into the government space, GSA’s Digital Government group seeks to smooth the adoption by creating and supporting communities focused on the implementation of the technology in government settings.

VR environment powers Navy equipment installation, training
Navy engineers created virtual spaces on three ships that will allow more accurate documentation for ship builders and installation engineers -- and help to train sailors on new equipment before it is placed onboard. An augmented-reality helmet system  developed by a Navy training officer fuses information from a ship's gunnery liaison officer and weapons systems into an easy-to-interpret visual format for the sailor manning a naval gun system.

Rehabilitating prisoners in a virtual world
VR has also been used to rehabilitate prisoners, providing general education, vocational training, psychological rehab tackling sex offenses, family violence and living skills.

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