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Town takes step to bolster cybersecurity

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The Town of Saugus will receive cybersecurity training from the state Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS) under the Cybersecurity Awareness Grant Program.

“We’re thrilled to again be included in this important grant program,” Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree said this week. He noted that the town had received a grant for this program back in 2022.

“We’re excited about the positive impact these funds will have on our town’s overall capabilities and security posture,” Crabtree said. “By prioritizing comprehensive training and investing in cutting-edge cybersecurity measures, we are reinforcing our commitment to the well-being of our community and the efficient functioning of our government.”

The 2024 Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness Grant Program will provide 78,000 employees from 227 municipalities and public school districts across Massachusetts with critical cybersecurity training to better detect and avoid cyber threats. It is designed to support local government efforts to improve overall cyber readiness through comprehensive online end-user training, evaluation and threat simulation. Awarded communities will receive licenses for end-user training, assessment and phishing simulation procured by the EOTSS.

Program participants begin their training with an initial cyber strength assessment to measure baseline cybersecurity awareness. Following the assessments, periodic assessments consisting of training modules and simulated phishing email campaigns help participants build good cyber hygiene habits to increase their awareness of deceptive techniques used by bad actors to gain unauthorized access to government systems. At the end of the program, participants complete a final cyber strength assessment to measure their progress.

The EOTSS offers the training program free to municipal organizations, which are further supported with quarterly threat briefings and weekly newsletters with cybersecurity best practices and program updates provided by the EOTSS Office of Municipal and School Technology. Municipal information technology officials also receive monthly summary progress reports that detail the number of employees who inadvertently clicked on malicious links contained in the simulated phishing emails, offering important visibility on the threat landscape.

“In my time as the Commonwealth CIO I’ve had a chance to talk to municipal officials from all over the state,” EOTSS Secretary Jason Snyder said in a press release announcing this year’s grant awards.

“In every discussion, cybersecurity comes up as a top priority. EOTSS is proud to advance the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s priority of supporting municipal cybersecurity readiness,” Snyder said.

Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll noted that the free program offered to municipalities and employees taking the training “makes clear that cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, whether we have IT in our job titles or not.”

The Town of Saugus continues to take significant steps to enhance its organizational capabilities by launching a comprehensive training initiative and bolstering its cybersecurity infrastructure, according to Crabtree. Saugus’ Information Technology Department is collaborating with Human Resources to ensure that all town departments actively participate in this initiative. The town manager said the goal is a completion rate of 80 percent of town employees who work on computers for the training program.

“We’re committed to encouraging the active involvement of all users in the upcoming training sessions,” Crabtree said.

“To facilitate seamless coordination, a top-down approach will be implemented: Department Heads will spearhead the initiative within their respective departments. Regular follow-ups will be conducted to monitor the progress of employees and address any challenges they may encounter throughout the year-long training program,” he said.

Crabtree noted that the town recently decommissioned its outdated computer legacy servers and applications.

“This move aligns with the town’s commitment to remain in compliance with supported operating systems, ensuring the highest level of efficiency and security in its operations,” Crabtree said.

“In addition to these upgrades, the Town of Saugus is set to introduce an encrypted email option in critical departments, including Accounting, Treasury, HR, and the Town Manager’s office. This initiative aims to fortify communication channels and safeguard sensitive information against potential threats,” he said.

“Looking ahead, the town is exploring the possibility of migrating to a higher-level Sophos package, which includes a managed threat response. This proactive step reflects Saugus’s dedication to staying ahead of cybersecurity challenges and maintaining the utmost protection for its digital assets.

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