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Cyber-reinforcements: the town department that takes a hard look at software

In response to a reader question, CollingwoodToday looks into the town's efforts to protect its network and data from cyber-attacks.
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As more public service moves online – building permits, parking ticket payments, and even municipal voting – there’s growing concern about security in a world of ones and zeros, of virtual money, and invisible information.

After recent cyber attacks on public sector organizations, there are some residents in Collingwood who reached out to CollingwoodToday with concerns about Collingwood’s own network security.

This year, two area municipalities had their computer systems hijacked and were forced to pay a ransom to get control and the data back.

Both Wasaga Beach and Midland were under virtual siege and it cost the towns hundreds of thousands of dollars, which includes a ransom paid in bitcoin to the hackers.

The question asked to CollingwoodToday by residents is: “Could it happen here?”

Marjory Leonard is the town’s treasurer and is the department head who currently oversees the town’s Information Technology (IT) department, and said the town has made significant changes to the IT department over the past two years, which included building an in-house team of full-time staff to meet the town’s IT needs.

“It is definitely a primary focus and concern that we keep our citizens’ data safe and maintain operations for our staff,” said Leonard, adding it takes more than IT staff to keep the town’s network safe.

Leonard refers to an article published by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada which states cyber security is not solely an IT issue. The article suggests total protection from cyber threats is “unattainable,” but suggests the strongest security is and enterprise-wide approach.  

“A major piece of this is employee training,” said Leonard. “Having a knowledgeable and trained end user is the best defence against email threats. A real human firewall. We are actively running security awareness campaigns and require all our staff to complete specific online instruction.”

Over the past two years, the Collingwood IT department changed to an in-house team consisting of an IT manager, a systems support coordinator, a Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinator and a systems support person (on contract). The net operating budget is $487,318 and the 2018 capital budget is $172,500. There are three full-time equivalent positions dedicated directly to IT and those staff provide support to 245 computer users and contractors, according to Leonard.

The contract position is short-term, said Leonard, in order to provide backfill while the department focuses on major projects.

A report presented to Collingwood council in June this year by the Perry Group indicated Collingwood should be running with approximately four full-time IT staff, according to Leonard, who added the town’s IT team is relatively a lean one.

Since moving to an in-house department, Collingwood’s IT staff have been working to upgrade the town’s hardware, a recommendation included in a third-party report to council prior to the IT department changes.

In addition to new servers, computers, storage, firewalls, network switches, and wireless infrastructure the town has implemented new backup support systems and software.

“The town’s IT personnel not only look after the traditional hardware and software related to ‘computers,’ but also have items such as managing telephones (landlines and cell phones), audio-visual needs, various print device peripherals, tablets, security camera systems, and any other items that interface or require connection to a system of any sort,” said Leonard.

The team is currently working on migrating the town’s email system to Office 365 and assisting in the town’s website re-design process. The work will continue into 2019 with more fine-tuning and more work to deliver additional electronic services to Collingwood residents.




Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter, photographer and community editor. She has 12 years of experience as a local journalist.
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