Oct 19 2021

Smart Cities Connect: Virginia’s Stafford County Secures Smart Test Bed Through Partnerships

The local government’s collaboration with state, regional and nonprofit organizations boosts cybersecurity.

Stafford County, Va., CTO Mike Cannon has a unique opportunity to help build a downtown from the ground up.

The rapidly growing jurisdiction contains a county seat, also called Stafford, and several years ago, the local government began planning a smart community in the heart of it. In doing so, the county has maintained cybersecurity as a top priority, Cannon said Tuesday during a panel at the Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference and Expo in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“It’s not a matter of whether you will get attacked, it’s a matter of when you will get attacked,” Cannon said, emphasizing the importance of regional information sharing and collective defenses.

To achieve its smart community vision, Stafford County partnered with the nonprofit Center for Innovative Technology, headquartered in nearby Richmond, Va. In 2019, the two agreed to establish an initial test bed for technologies as Smart Stafford, the first Internet of Things platform in Virginia. Fully operational as of May, the test bed runs a dozen smart city uses cases, integrating with 5G and other emerging technologies, Canon said.

“Security is paramount” in those test bed cases, he added, listing flood sensors, video surveillance and wastewater testing as examples of test bed activities.

“There are some things we can deploy now, we said to ourselves at the time, so we created a safe environment to test these technologies,” Cannon said. Stafford County worked with Virginia’s statewide Commonwealth Data Trust, under the state’s Office of Data Governance and Analytics, to store and access information in a secure way through the Data Trust’s existing information-sharing environment.

To Act Quickly, County Sought Help from Virginia Nonprofit

Because government procurement can be “painfully slow,” Cannon said, Stafford County formed its partnership with CIT and designated the nonprofit as the procurement agent for Smart Stafford, Cannon said. That allows the project to respond to real-world requirements quickly.

“We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today without that kind of mechanism and the ability to do that,” he said.

Stafford County, a medium-sized jurisdiction, also benefits from partnerships with other regional governments. It houses Marine Corps Base Quantico, the FBI Academy and other federal institutions that work with it. The county also reached out to neighboring counties and cities to discuss forming a regional coalition, and they are in talks to create a shared security operations center.

“You need to look at a regional approach when you are talking about small and medium-sized organizations,” Cannon said. Participating government agencies would collaborate on cybersecurity initiatives and share threat information. Initiatives will include joint training and tabletop exercises, Cannon added.

KEEP READING: Check out these complimentary resources from CDW for guidance on building an incident response plan.

Stafford Develops Cyber Expertise with Cyber Bytes Foundation

Stafford County also partners with the nonprofit Cyber Bytes Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting education and outreach for IT workers. Speaking at Smart Cities Connect, Cyber Bytes Foundation Director of Operations Joel Scharlat endorsed the county’s collaborative approach.

“It doesn’t matter what your skill level is, you cannot do it alone. So, collaboration is key,” Scharlat said. “If you are a locality seeking to make something smart, understand what that means, and understand where you can start.”

Scharlat cautioned that many small communities may think cyberattacks will not happen to them. However, bad actors consistently attack small communities, probing for exploits and opportunities.

“Take advantages of resources around you and build coalitions,” Scharlat advised.

In Cyber Bytes’ partnership with Stafford County, the foundation develops and implements data analytics and cybersecurity courses for Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech in turn brings the classes to the classrooms of the Quantico Cyber Hub, located within Stafford County.

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