Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

New York City has become the first major American metropolitan area to open a real-time operational center to protect against cybersecurity threats, regional officials said.

Set in a lower Manhattan skyscraper, the center is staffed by a coalition of government agencies and private businesses, with 282 partners overall sharing intelligence on potential cyber threats. Its members range from the New York Police Department to

Amazon.com Inc.

and International Business Machines Corp. to the Federal Reserve Bank and several New York healthcare systems.

Until last week, the two-year effort known as New York City Cyber Critical Services and Infrastructure was completely virtual.

New York’s cyberdefense center opens as attacks against government and business infrastructure increase across the country. In recent months, cyberattacks have struck U.S. pipelines, meat producers and software companies.

New York has long been seen as particularly vulnerable because of its status as a business center and symbol of American financial and cultural power.

“If any city in America needs this cross-sector and government collaboration, it’s us,” said Manhattan District Attorney

Cyrus Vance Jr.

, who was among the founding members of the project.

John Miller addressed members of the New York City Cyber Critical Services and Infrastructure at the center’s opening on June 30 in Manhattan.

Discussions about the cyber initiative began in 2017, when a handful of local leaders in the law enforcement, intelligence and security communities assessed how New York City would respond if a terrorist attacked its water supply, Mr. Vance said.

New York would need to be mobilized instantaneously, and yet at the time, there was no group organized to convene in the event of a cyberattack, Mr. Vance said.

As cybercrimes continued to rise, the district attorney’s office, the New York Police Department, New York City Cyber Command and Global Cyber Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing cyber risks, launched the New York City Cyber Critical Services and Infrastructure project in 2019.

Ransomware attacks are increasing in frequency, victim losses are skyrocketing, and hackers are shifting their targets. WSJ’s Dustin Volz explains why these attacks are on the rise and what the U.S. can do to fight them. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

In November, the project’s members deployed public and private volunteers to Brooklyn Hospital to respond to a ransomware attack on its network. The team spent a week on-site, working to find malware and reconfiguring hospital servers, officials said.

Ransomware attacks have become prevalent around the country, with one happening every 14 seconds, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller. He said 40% of companies pay the ransom and 80% end up getting hit again.

These types of threats, which make critical infrastructure vulnerable to crippling attacks, were a key driver in launching the regional cyber initiative, Mr. Miller said.

“When one major piece of critical infrastructure is under attack, they’re all under attack,” said Mr. Miller. “If those entities fail, all our response plans fail with them.”

The center is staffed by a coalition of government agencies and private businesses, with 282 partners overall sharing intelligence on potential cyber threats.

Although there is work being done at the state and federal levels, cybersecurity experts warn that major cities are uniquely vulnerable to disruptions and should organize around these threats.

“Cities increasingly depend on cyber,” said Global Cyber Alliance President and CEO Philip Reitinger. “Everything is connected.”

Since launching, the New York initiative starts sharing information as soon as there is a cyber event anywhere in the country and makes preparations in case an attack breaches the region. The collective has also held several “war games” at the IBM cyber range where participants use their own systems to practice fending off real attacks together.

“You want to mitigate the surprise,” said Geoff Brown, New York City’s chief information security officer and head of its cyber command.

Write to Deanna Paul at deanna.paul@wsj.com

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