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911 call centers are delaying upgrades

The nation’s emergency phone systems are proving resilient during the coronavirus pandemic, even in regions where call volume is surging, according to the results of a new survey of 911 call-center operators. The survey, conducted by the National Emergency Number Association, found that most regions are actually seeing decreases in emergency call volume. Only 30 percent of 500 respondents said call volume had increased at their call centers and only 3 percent said call volume had “greatly” increased, with most responses in the latter group coming from regions most heavily affected by the pandemic, like New York. But experts also warned that delays to maintenance and upgrades could potentially introduce security vulnerabilities. Longer-term upgrades to emergency call systems, the transition to “next-generation 911” platforms capable of handling video calls and sharing data across jurisdictions, have largely been put on hold, said NENA chief executive Brian Fontes. Colin Wood reports.

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Maryland creates cybersecurity task force for health crisis

In addition to everything else they've done as part of their state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic — building field hospitals, setting up testing sites, transporting medical equipment — members of the Maryland National Guard are now part of a new cybersecurity task force, with the state Department of Information Technology, to protect the state government's digital services during the health crisis. The new team is responsible for monitoring state government websites, such as the portal for unemployment benefits, to make sure that the public can still access state services and public-health updates. “We may be behind the scenes but our mission for this task force is so critical by allowing our websites to continue to inform citizens during this critical time,” Chip Stewart, the state’s chief information security officer, told StateScoop. Benjamin Freed has more.

FBI warns coronavirus is big business for BEC

The FBI this week published new guidance warning organizations, including local governments, to be wary of business email compromise schemes — in which the perpetrators pose as co-workers or friends, then ask for money — taking advantage of the need for medical supplies needed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeff Stone reports for CyberScoop. Though not as high-profile as ransomware, business email compromise remained the most profitable form of cybercrime in the U.S. last year, with victims reporting $1.7 billion in losses, according to bureau figures. Some jurisdictions, like Virginia, have created specialized efforts to deter and prosecute cybercriminals who try to take advantage of the health crisis. Read more on CyberScoop.

No new gadgets, please, we're very busy

As the novel coronavirus spreads in America’s large cities, privacy and civil liberties advocates are raising concerns about the potential rise of surveillance technologies. But city officials told StateScoop they’re mostly repurposing trusted, existing technologies for pandemic response, not experimenting with new ones. As many local governments are overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis, they focus on procuring more of the same technologies that had already been in use, like laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots, rather than implementing broad surveillance systems seen abroad. Emily Yates, Philadelphia’s smart city director, said the time to experiment will have to wait. “There’s been a dramatic uptick in outreach from vendors who are, rightfully so, trying to help cities solve these challenges,” she said. “[But] there’s a huge disconnect between what the challenges are that cities are working on and the capacity to navigate implementation and procurement of these technologies.” Ryan Johnston reports.

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