ITAC focuses on cybersecurity in Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published October 20, 2022

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Since 2014, the Information Technology Advisory Committee has advised the Madison Heights City Council on ways to modernize the city’s operations. Over the past year, that has included cloud-based data management and other cybersecurity measures that will help protect the city against privacy breaches and data theft.

“When I was first elected to council, one of my top priorities was modernizing the technology our city departments were using, so I actively sought out a way for us to get some expert advice,” said Mark Bliss, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, in an email. “I found a similar-sized city in California that had a technology board that was filled with local experts, and I immediately knew that was our solution.”

The board meets on an as-needed basis, reviewing the IT plan and discussing any major purchases or improvements the city is planning to make, going line by line through proposals and technical requirements to ensure the city gets the best services and equipment at the best price.

Lately, that has meant enhancements in the area of cybersecurity.

“We have firewalls and endpoint protection software in place already. However, given the recent increase in municipal cyberattacks, the board advised staff and council that immediate action should be taken,” Bliss said.

That resulted in the city migrating to Microsoft Office 365, which features secure cloud servers, enhanced threat protection and more frequent security patches. Since then, the city has also implemented multi-factor authentication for the city’s employees, and has made plans to implement annual penetration testing and ongoing employee security awareness training, so that staff members are better prepared to recognize potential threats.

Bliss himself works in the IT field. He is currently the senior vice president of marketing at a cybersecurity software company called DNSFilter. He also worked as a vice president at a managed security services provider called Nuspire.

“I have seen firsthand how breaches can impact organizations like our city,” Bliss said. “I am glad that through ITAC, we’re able to put things in place to prevent that.”

He noted the many other ways ITAC has already left its mark on the city.

“ITAC has been involved in every major technology discussion since it was implemented. The biggest change was their work helping us to completely overhaul our IT department with a managed services provider, as well as being our advisors on all open bids and contract renewals,” Bliss said. “Additionally, they’ve been instrumental in helping to upgrade our phones, change council videos from VHS tapes to live-streamed 4K video, updated our website, expanded online payments and services, and even helped implement police body cameras.”

The police began using those body cameras in September 2020, on ITAC’s recommendation, and also updated their in-car cameras to further improve accountability, using tech ITAC suggested. This included 50 new officer-worn cameras and 55 replacement in-car cameras, and the hardware to recharge them, as well as access to a cloud-based data management and storage system — all part of a five-year contract with Axon, formerly known as TASER International, which the council unanimously approved in August 2020.

During the five years, the body cameras will be updated twice and the in-car cameras will be updated once. The footage they collect is stored for up to two years on a server in the basement of the Madison Heights Police Department. Axon also features a three-layer security system so that two backups of each file are also available in the cloud. A redaction function helps to more efficiently honor Freedom of Information Act requests. The cost of that five-year contract was about $342,000, which included about $105,600 for installation.

“The very first time body cams were mentioned in a public meeting in our city was a suggestion from ITAC,” Bliss said. “They reviewed the specs, as well as the policies we adopted, allowing us to be more confident as we moved forward with that investment.”

Other city officials shared their appreciation for the board’s support, as well.

“Boards like ITAC and the Human Relations & Equity Commission can help City Council gain perspectives on complex matters that come before City Council,” said Madison Heights City Councilman Quinn Wright, in an email. “It’s a great asset to have boards like these to gather residents’ input and help us make better informed decisions.”

Added Mayor Roslyn Grafstein, in an email, “Across the country, as businesses and governments try to protect against cyberattacks and stay on top of modern technology, it’s great that we have this resident board advising us … on industry changes and best practices, passing them along to benefit the city and all our residents.”