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Dallas launches cybersecurity app to help protect residents from digital threats

In a world where digital safety is under attack, the city of Dallas is providing a free service to protect residents from cybersecurity threats on their phones and other devices.

Dallas Secure, the city’s new mobile threat protection app, went live in early December and operates on software created by Dallas-based mobile security company Zimperium, which partnered with the city on the project more than a year ago. The company previously customized versions of the app for residents in New York City, Los Angeles and Michigan.

Dallas’ chief information officer, Bill Zielinski, said the city wanted to go on the offensive to combat the rise of cyber attacks on residents. After fraudsters scammed Dallas Water Utilities customers in September, the city responded by issuing news releases, pushing media alerts and warning people on the city website.

“We were basically chasing down what has already happened, and there have already been many people who have been impacted,” he said. “So we’ve been looking for things that we could do as the city to protect our residents by doing more proactive responses.”

How does it work?

Once downloaded, the app works in the background and gives users on-screen alerts of any potential threats on their device, including connecting to unsecured wireless networks and any phishing attempts.

“If it’s a phone call coming in, it gives you information about whether there’s a threat that might be possible,” Zielinski said. “Then, it provides an easy-to-use interface for actions that they can take to prevent that.”

For example, if a user connects to a malicious or unsecure Wi-Fi network, the app will notify users of the potential threat and ask whether or not they would like to disconnect.

Unlike some other cybersecurity tools, the app does not collect personal information and maintains users’ privacy, Zimperium CEO Shridhar Mittal said.

“The difference here is that it’s constantly monitoring everything that’s going on in your device and not sending any personal information out of your device at all,” Mittal said. “It is purely for the protection of the citizen.”

It also performs overall scans of users’ mobile devices and detects any potential threats.

Who is it for?

Dallas Secure is meant for all residents, but the app may benefit some groups more than others. These include older people who don’t regularly use their phones as well as students who frequently use their mobile devices on the go.

“We’re really trying to target those folks who otherwise might not have these resources available to them, or might not have the technical savvy that will help them navigate in what is sometimes a risky world,” Zielinski said.

Plans for the future

As of mid-December, the app had been downloaded about 1,000 times. The city aims to gain more users by updating the app’s software to match the current threat environment.

According to a March report from the FBI’s cyber division, threats against local governments are on the rise, including a growing amount of ransomware attacks. Over the past month, the Dallas Central Appraisal District has been trying to resolve a ransomware attack.

Zielinski said the city hopes to decrease the number of people who fall victim to cyber and “socially engineered” attacks by providing tools like Dallas Secure.

“We like to say that we are only as strong as our weakest link,” he said. “By increasing those who have awareness, and tools that help them, it really is making us all stronger from a cybersecurity perspective.”

The app is free and available on the App Store and Google Play.

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