City’s IT Department uses artificial intelligence to frustrate cyber attacks

David Travis

David Travis

Two weeks ago, simultaneous ransom ware attacks launched by what authorities suspect was a single criminal snared the computer networks of 22 Texas counties and the police departments of three Texas cities, demanding for their release a collective $2.5 million.

In various forms, attacks like that can happen to any entity or person at any moment of the day – even to the city of Auburn.

Of course, most of what the city of Auburn’s IT director, David Travis, and his brainy team of 19 do to ward off like attacks and keep sensitive information — including customer data — out of the hands of bad actors has to be kept hush-hush.

But as Travis told city leaders recently, the city’s cyber-defense systems have come a long way in a few months, and in that time the city has thrown up formidable fortifications that employ artificial intelligence, and fairly bristle with the latest technology.

“We’ve already used this tool to prevent some pretty expensive threats that have hit some of our users. Nothing they did intentionally, but it’s kind of the wild, wild west out there,” Travis said. “You go to a website, you don’t know what it is, you download something accidentally, and it could be bad.”

The reality that keeps the team’s eyes on the ever-alert is that greedy-for-gain criminals and hackers bent on mischief nearby and all over the world are always at it, constantly probing for weaknesses in the networks of governments, hospitals, businesses and private users.

Travis said the city’s system monitors all network traffic and the city’s infrastructure, assessing the behavior of every user who pops onto the system based on their normal routines. Any behavior out of the normal raises AI’s hackles, and it immediately blocks that user, until somebody in ITs security group can have a look-see.

“Whereas before, that was a ‘holy smokes, something just happened,’” Travis said, “… this is allowing us to be a little more proactive.

“(Holy smokes), that’s a technical thing,” one council member said to another, drawing laughter.

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