Federal cyberattacks hit D.C. city government first, CTO says

Washington D.C.’s chief technology officer, Lindsey Parker, tells StateScoop in a video interview that she thinks about cybersecurity every day, in part because her local government organization is sometimes used a test bed for cyberattacks against the federal government.

“I like to tell people we’re kind of thought of as ‘federal government lite,’ in this space only,” Parker says. “Because some of the attacks you see that come into the feds, they try out on us first. So we really have to have a robust system in place.”

To lead these efforts, Parker lauded the work of D.C. Chief Information Security Officer Suneel Cherukuri, who upon taking the permanent CISO role in November 2018 said he’s taking a “holistic approach” to cybersecurity, “trying to make that program better by making decisions in terms of collaboration between agencies.”

“[He’s] put together a tremendous set of tools to help us think through what’s happening every day,” Parker said. “One of the things we’re exploring now is how do we make sure that some of our partner agencies, the folks that we serve, how do they take ownership in their own security and have some visibility into what’s going on so they can course correct and ensure that the employees are being a little more thoughtful as they engage online, and empowering themselves to be a little bit more aware of cyberattacks as they come up.”

Among the more high profile attacks to hit the local government include a ransomware virus that infected the system that stores footage collected by city police department’s surveillance cameras in January 2017. That cyberattack knocked out cameras for three days and was blamed for the loss of surveillance footage that might have helped police make an arrest in connection with a murder case.

Parker on her top priorities:

“[We’re working on] Ensuring that our network and our infrastructure is an area for opportunity so our partner agencies, the agencies that we serve, our customers, are able to innovate in the space that they need to.”

Parker on workforce:

“Washington D.C. is pretty unique. We have a city, county and state government all in one, so we’re one municipal government, but we get to do a lot. Not only do we fill potholes, but we get to regulate air quality, so we’ve got a lot of different needs amongst all of our different chief information officer groups throughout our 60-plus agencies.”

Parker on how she sees her role changing with emerging technology:

“It’s really transforming our role every single day. I think I have the best job on the planet, to tell you the truth. I get to think about the future of government and really how residents, visitors and businesses are going to expect to deal with government going forward.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ midyear conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in May 2019.