Safeguarding Public Safety Communications –

Internet protocol based (IP) communication is knitting together public safety in new and creative ways.  Better integrated systems help overcome the interoperability challenges that have plagued first responders.

The increased use of IP communications and mobile platforms however also makes public safety more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.  Agencies must take steps to protect sensitive operations and confidential data. For example, information technology tools such as identity management and user authentication are essential to protect    networks from external and internal intruders.  Legacy equipment also creates cyber vulnerabilities as existing network equipment is often insufficiently upgraded to incorporate necessary security enhancements.

To its credit, the First Responder Network Authority or FirstNet, the government entity charged with stabling the “Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network,” has identified cyber security as a critical priority.  FirstNet’s is “baking in” from the outset cyber considerations into its network design.

According to, APCO International has recently released a very understandable cybersecurity guide for 911 call centers or PSAPs. [2]  While once PSAPs received calls only from landline phones and communicated with first responders with analog land mobile radios, IP-based communication is becoming integrated into every aspect of their work.

However cyber challenges cannot be fully addressed with top down approaches.  Good cyber ‘hygiene” or operational practices must be an integral part of every public safety operations. There is some relevant post in blog.

The Cyber Security best practices for public safety communications are largely the same as for other networked sectors. The “Stop.Think.Connect Campaign” developed by the Department of Homeland Security’s “National Cyber Security Awareness Month” provides an excellent template.

  • Keep your private information private. Avoid sharing your full name, address, and other personal information online. Frequently check a website’s privacy options to ensure you have enabled the highest level of privacy as options may get updated or changed completely.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails, tweets, posts, and online advertisements are often how cybercriminals compromise your computer or mobile device. If it looks suspicious, it’s best to delete it, even if you know the source. If appropriate, mark the message as “junk email” so that future messages from the sender do not end up in your inbox.
  • Set strong passwords. Setting passwords that are long, unique, and hard to guess is one of the most important things you can do to protect your online accounts. Changing passwords regularly and using different passwords for different accounts goes a long way to protecting your online information.
  • Secure your accounts. Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many websites now offer additional ways for you verify your identity are before you conduct business on their sites, such as two-factor authentication.
  • Secure your mobile device. In order to prevent theft and unauthorized access, use a passcode to lock your mobile device and always lock it when it’s not in use. Never leave your mobile device unattended in a public place.

The special sensitivity of the work of first responders makes appropriate cyber security practices especially important.

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