New York secures its public Wi-Fi

NYC Secure will protect the city's public Wi-Fi networks with a DNS security service and offer a free city-sponsored smartphone app to alert users when suspicious activity is detected on their mobile devices.

With major cities like Atlanta and Baltimore falling victim to hackers, New York City has a two-pronged strategy to protect its residents and, by extension, its own systems from cybersecurity threats.

The NYC Secure program, launched March 29, will include new protection for its public Wi-Fi networks and a free city-sponsored smartphone app that will alert users when suspicious activity is detected on their mobile devices.

The NYC Cyber Command, which is responsible for citywide cyber defense and incident response, is overseeing the development and implementation of NYC Secure.

The city will strengthen its New York City guest and free public Wi-Fi networks with Quad9 DNS-based cybersecurity.  The automated security platform blocks access to known malicious sites by checking IP addresses against IBM X-Force threat intelligence that includes more than 40 billion analyzed web pages and images and 17 million spam and phishing attacks monitored daily.

This technology will protect users browsing the internet on city guest wireless networks from downloading malicious software such as ransomware or accessing phishing sites. The technology protects browsing sessions without using or storing any personally identifiable information and adheres to the highest standards of user privacy, city officials said.

Quad9 is an independent non-profit formed from a collaboration of IBM, Packet Clearing House and the Global Cyber Alliance, and was initially supported with asset forfeiture funds provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. The free, easy to use service available to any organization, corporation or individual, the organization said in a blog post.

NYC Cyber Command has mandated the deployment of the technology by the end of the year. Eighteen agencies and offices are already using the service for their internal networks, and the rest of the city's internal networks will implement it by the end of 2018, officials said. The technology will also be deployed on the LinkNYC network, whose 1,400 kiosks offer free high-speed Wi-Fi around the city's five boroughs.

Available this summer, the free, city-sponsored companion app will equip Android and iOS mobile devices with technology needed to analyze threats while protecting user privacy. Users will receive recommended steps to protect themselves, such as disconnecting from a malicious Wi-Fi network, navigating away from a compromised website or uninstalling a malicious app. The app will not take actions on the phone by itself.

“New Yorkers manage so much of their lives online, from paying bills to applying for jobs to engaging with government," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "NYC Secure will ensure that we’re applying the best and most effective protection efforts to help New Yorkers defend themselves online.”

“In order to stay a step ahead of cyber criminals that are continuously finding new ways to hack devices, we must invest in the safety of the digital lives of our residents,” NYC Cyber Command Chief Geoff Brown said. “While no individual is immune to cybersecurity threats, this program will add an extra layer of security to personal devices that often house a huge amount of sensitive data.”

The city will be actively soliciting feedback during this process.

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