New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is setting his sights on cybersecurity this spring. His office recently launched NYC Secure, a cybersecurity initiative aimed at protecting New Yorkers online.

“New Yorkers manage so much of their lives online, from paying bills to applying for jobs to engaging with government,” said de Blasio. “NYC Secure will ensure that we’re applying the best and most effective protection efforts to help New Yorkers defend themselves online.”

NYC Secure announced the launch of its first two cybersecurity solutions but plans to add additional services and resources on an on-going basis.  This summer, residents can download a free smartphone protection app that will issue warnings to a user when the app detects suspicious activity on a user’s mobile devices. de Blasio’s office also announced new protections for its public Wi-Fi networks across all boroughs. According to the Mayor’s Office, New York is the first city in the world to provide such services to all residents and visitors free of charge.

Mayor de Blasio tasked NYC Cyber Command (NYC3), which already leads the City’s cybersecurity efforts, with overseeing the development and implementation of NYC Secure.

“In order to stay a step ahead of cybercriminals that are continuously finding new ways to hack devices, we must invest in the safety of the digital lives of our residents,” said Geoff Brown, citywide CISO and head of NYC Cyber Command. “While no individual is immune to cybersecurity threats, this program will add an extra layer of security to personal devices that often house a huge amount of sensitive data.”

What the App Does

With mobile phones accounting for 50 percent of web traffic, the mayor’s office wanted to find an easy and free way for citizens to protect their devices.

The new app will identify malicious attacks and warn users of attempts to compromise their device. Once warned, users will receive recommended steps to protect themselves, including disconnecting from a malicious Wi-Fi network, navigating away from a compromised website, or uninstalling a malicious app. City officials note that the app will not take actions on the phone by itself.

The  mayor’s office notes that similar commercial apps work by collecting data from a mobile device and analyzing it externally in the cloud. However, due to data privacy concerns, the city’s app does not work this way. Rather, the app identifies attacks without accessing any personally identifiable information. Additionally, the app won’t collect or transmit any private data.

New Wi-Fi Protections

After protecting the devices in the hands of citizens, the city looked to strengthen its own public Wi-Fi networks.

The new layer of security will prevent users from downloading malicious software such as ransomware or accessing phishing websites. Additionally, the city notes, the technology protects users from cyberattacks without using or storing any personally identifiable information.

The technology will be available across all “Guest” and public Wi-Fi networks provided by NYC agencies and related entities by the end of the year Additionally, the technology will be deployed on the LinkNYC network–which currently includes 1,400 free Wi-Fi Kiosks around NYC’s five boroughs.

No surprises, the city that’s led the charge in free, public Wi-Fi is doubling down on cyber public safety.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs