Where is Blockchain in Government Headed?

Simply stated, blockchain is digital information (the block) stored in a public database (the chain). While its popularity has grown in recent years, government agencies are fine-tuning their use cases and picking their blockchain projects wisely.

When looking for a blockchain project it is necessary to evaluate certain factors to determine appropriateness. 1) Would the project work in a business environment? 2) Is the information appropriate to be shared? 3) How will success be measured? 4) Will the project overcome funding and regulatory issues? 5) How will success be measured?

For the right project there are significant benefits to blockchain technology when solving tactical issues but an agency must be certain of the value before embarking on the project development.

Summarized from MeriTalk

Government Websites Are Going Interactive With Budget Details. But Will Citizens Know What They’re Seeing?

When the Radnor Township, Pennsylvania Commissioners discovered that the Township Manager had given himself nearly $130,000 in unauthorized bonuses, they began an initiative to become more transparent about Township funds.

The “Open Finance” website was launched as an interactive tool to let residents, investors, business owners, government employees, and others explore the township’s budget through charts and graphs. The site allows users to look at broad data or drill deep into funds, reaching individual check amounts if desired.

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has determined that current technology enables smaller governments to offer the same types of online tools that larger governments are providing their constituents. The GFOA is working on best practices for online budget tools.

(summarized from The Inquirer)

Blockchain Explained

Quite simply, blockchain is digital information (the block) stored in a public database (the chain).

Blocks store information about transactions, (ex. date time, dollar amount); who is participating in a transaction and what distinguishes them from other blocks. A single block can store up to 1 MB of data – a few thousand transactions.

A blockchain consists of multiple blocks strung together. For a block to be added to the chain four things must happen: a transaction must occur; the transaction must be verified; the transaction must be stored in the block; the block must be given a hash – a unique identifying code. At this point the block is publicly available.

When a user opts to connect a computer to the blockchain network, the computer receives a copy of the blockchain that is updated automatically when a block is added. Because each computer has its own blockchain copy, there isn’t a single account of events that can be manipulated by a hacker.

Security is enhanced as new blocks are stored linearly and chronologically. It is difficult to alter the block because it contains its own hash and the hash of the block preceding it.

An example of government use of blockchain technology is to store data about property exchanges. The blockchain can eliminate the need for scanning documents and tracking down physical files if property ownership is stored and verified as previously described.

Voting with blockchain can eliminate election fraud and boost turnout with each vote being store on the blockchain, making it nearly impossible to tamper with the data.

 

Summarized from investopedia.com

“Robbinhood” Ransomware Takes Down Baltimore City Government Networks

Systems at a number of Baltimore city government departments were taken offline on May 7 by a ransomware attack. Police, fire, and emergency response systems were not affected but nearly every other department of city government was negatively impacted in some manner.

A very aggressive new variant of the “RobbinHood” ransomware was determined to be the culprit by the FBI. The malware appears to target only files on a single system and does not spread through the network. It is meant to be deployed on each machine individually.

To infiltrate, the attacker needs to previously have gained administrative-level access to a system on the network. Additionally, a public RSA key must be present on the targeted computer.

 

(summarized from arstechica.com)

The Challenges of Connected Government

Anyone who has watched episodes of Star Trek are aware that fiction has become part of our reality. Captain Kirk’s communicator and the Enterprise’s smart sensors are now part of our daily lives. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Internet has morphed from a service that was nice to have to a utility like water and electricity.

This progress has made governments responsible to deliver quality services to citizens while maintaining a fair budget. The “Internet of Things (IoT) is “the network of connected computers, devices, machines, and their components with electronics, software, and sensors that enable them to link and exchange data.” In a connected government, agency assets are part of this network.

The problem facing government is the financial constraint that limits investment in technology. The fact is that government must invest in technology infrastructure to ensure reliable, fast, and streamlined automated processes that support connectivity. Without technology, the transition to connected government will not be successful.

Being connected is essential for governments, creating opportunities for innovation and growth while at the same time, opening opportunities for cybercrime and attacks.

(summarized from govtech.com)

Text-To- 911 Capabilities Launch in Suffolk County, NY

The Suffolk police department has implemented technology that allows cell phone users to send a text message to a 911 call center during an emergency. An estimated 80 percent of 911 calls in the United States come from smartphones.

The “text-to-911” program can be particularly important in a case of domestic violence or active shooter situation when a voice call may be impossible. The technology also allows hearing- and speech-impaired individuals to contact 911 during a medical emergency, a more efficient means than the TTY system.

The system cannot accept group texts, photos, or videos and it is recommended that users not use abbreviations, symbols, or emojis.

The Suffolk system is funded on a surcharge to cellphone users and had an initial cost of $72,000 with an annual cost of $49,500.

(summarized from govetech.com)

5 Ways to Contain Software Costs

In 2018, the federal government budgeted $95.7 billion on IT, much of which was spent on maintaining unused or out-of-date software. On the local government level, consideration must be given to the potential for a proportionate amount of waste.

When an agency is faced with initiating a new project, software is often sourced for that specific need without research to determine if it already accessible from another municipal division.

Steps to save taxpayer money in this area include:
1 – Track and reclaim unused, existing licenses – Analyze whether or not people are using existing software and if not, reclaim the software and apply it elsewhere to satisfy other needs.

2 – Address ‘software-as-a-service’ spending – If governments don’t collect appropriate metrics or institute effective reporting in real time, there is no way to determine value for the software being used.

3 –Consolidate server virtualization into fewer data centers – Creating virtual data centers requires knowing what is installed and what licenses are required as a means to minimize the cost of new software licenses.

4 – Limit audit risk and consequences – Independent audits can be a big issue for governments. When agencies don’t know what’s installed and being used, it is too easy for an auditor to declare them out of compliance.

5 – Implement “known state” on all clients and monitor in real time – “Known state” ensures that software use doesn’t get out of control, that all employees can work effectively, that devices are secure, and downtime and disruption is minimized. A live picture of all endpoints will give agencies the ability to automate corrections in real-time, reducing software costs and risks.

 

Summarized from GCN.com

Local Governments Lack Defined Digital Services Strategy

A survey by the Public Technology Institute (PTI) shows that local government digital strategies are predominantly ‘ad-hoc’ and ‘not defined.’

The results showed that only 32 percent of respondents have or plan to create a digital services organization and 68 percent either do not have one defined or have left the responsibility to individual agencies of departments.

PTI recommends developing a digital strategy that addresses:
Citizen participation and engagement
Web management
App management
Use of multi-channel systems
Use of metrics and sharing the information among departments
Active management and engagement with leadership and community
Governance, policy, and procedures
Security and crisis management
Understanding and anticipating compliance issues
Use of GIS

 

Summarized from statescoop.com

Technology and the Difficult Issues of Governance

Governance is about the guidance of collective behavior to promote public interest through the basic goals of productivity, equity, and trust. Technology is the means to power the way to meeting the goals.

Early computers were cost-effective only for limited, well-structured calculations and were dependent upon individuals with special skills. As digital productivity has improved, computers can now do things that only humans could do before. The growth of this digital productivity will accelerate and according to Oxford University research, nearly half of all existing jobs will be eliminated or require substantial retraining in the next 10 to 20 years.

Another factor of digital growth is that people are now more connected by computer, resulting in the opinion that government makes good decisions falling from 80 to 20 percent. People with greater access to knowledge are more anxious, angry, and harder to govern that before.

To maintain pace with technological development, good governance must make smart choices about new targets for automation; make smart choices about computer-accessible job training and job sharing; and make smart choices about public service responsiveness and accountability

Summarized from governing.com

Citing Security Risks, Vermont Prohibits Government Use of Huawei, Kaspersky Technology

The Vermont Governor’s administration has banned state government agencies and their IT vendors from using products made by Chinese telecom firm Huawei and other technology that may be considered a security risk.

The intent of the ban is to assure that equipment cannot be used to steal information of initiate a cyber-attack.

Prohibited technology includes:
AO Kaspersky Lab including Anti-Virus Huawei Technologies
ZTE Corp. Hytera Communications Corp.
Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Dahau Technology Co.

The Federal government has taken similar action based on “ties between Kaspersky officials and Russian government agencies.” The inclusion of Chinese companies is based on the potential for technology to be used for espionage.

(summarized from Burlington Free Press)