Modernization is like fixing an air conditioner, Illinois CISO says

November 17, 2021   |   by Noah Franklin

Written by Benjamin Freed

A day after a group of IT officials compared cybersecurity to a buffet in Las Vegas, Adam Ford, Illinois chief information security officer, offered a potentially more relatable metaphor for the role of security in modernizing government.

Upgrading technology and taking legacy systems out of service, Ford said Thursday, is like “replacing air conditioning before it fails”.

Adam Ford (State of Illinois)

“There comes a day the air conditioning stops working and the 100-degree heat comes in July, and that’s the day I regret not being proactive,” Ford said during a virtual held by CrowdStrike Summit. “Modernization is one of the keys to more security. The challenges are manifold. There are many system states that have existed for 30 or 40 years. “

Ford, who said the air conditioning system in his home was around 17 years old, cited modernization as one of the government’s biggest stumbling blocks to safer, especially since longstanding government practices are no longer keeping pace with current risks to its operation . Too often, he said, government agencies focus solely on the systems that are directly connected to the services they provide, even when critical vulnerabilities are elsewhere.

“Government priorities sometimes mismatch with the sanitary maintenance required for modern cybersecurity,” he said. “It becomes a problem working with government stakeholders to prioritize update systems that may or may not be mission critical. Governments are used to performing a function in a fixed way that was developed 25 years ago. There are many challenges for these employees to change. “

But Ford credited his state’s leaders for being proactive about the relationship between security and modernization, and listed a number of upgrades he made to protect public services. This included an increased focus on identity and access management, including a digital ID program used by around 60 government agencies, and a move towards a zero trust architecture. Ford added that these initiatives can lead to better service delivery, especially as the pandemic has accelerated modernization efforts.

“If we are looking to modernize, it makes sense to do it in a way that adds value to our residents,” he said. “Adding multi-factor authentication to 60 different interactions helps keep citizens safe and engaged. I think it’s a big driver compared to the COVID response. “

And just as the heating and ventilation systems of houses have to be serviced regularly, IT modernization is not a one-off act for Ford.

“We’re not just going to modernize every now and then, we’re good,” he said. “We’re talking about hygiene. You brush your teeth every day. “

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