Dickinson receives $31,500 cybersecurity grant for Zero Trust network program

Commissioners approve new cybersecurity program grant to proactively prevent ransomware attacks as 75% of state organizations face ransomware attacks.

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Aaron Meyer, IT Director for the City of Dickinson, presents information on a cybersecurity grant that would fund a service aimed at preventing potential cybersecurity attacks. <br/>
Photo by Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — In a bid to combat a growing threat of cyber attacks, the City of Dickinson accepted a $31,500 grant for an advanced cybersecurity program, from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, that will take preemptive measures to safeguard against ransomware attacks — a type of digital attack designed to block or encrypt files on a device until a ransom of money is paid.

The grant accepted by the commissioners will allow for the city to pay for the first year of a cybersecurity service called Illumio, which uses Zero Trust Segmentation (ZTS). ZTS is a security strategy that helps protect against cyber attacks like ransomware by watching how different devices communicate with each other, and only allowing communication that is safe and necessary to occur. If an attack does happen, ZTS has the ability to automatically stop it from spreading further in the network.

“Right now, we take the approach of how to react to attacks. This takes a proactive approach of how do we take and actually start to build walls around each individual section of our network...” Aaron Meyer, IT Director for the City of Dickinson, said.

Meyer went on to explain how if a breach would occur, the software would work to build a wall around the attacked device as well as important devices within the software. According to Meyer, over the past 2 years more than 75% of organizations in the nation were subjected to some form of ransomware attack. Accoreding to CyberSecurity Ventures, every 11 seconds a ransomware attack occurs with an estimated cost of $20 billion yearly.

Commissioner John Odermann said that he believes the grant would be money well spent, mentioning a previous cyber attack.


“We went through a cyber attack at Common Spirit Health this last fall, and you don’t realize how reliant you are on this stuff until you don't have it,” he said, noting that the cleanup for CSH billing and coding from the previous attack is still ongoing and costly. “...I can't imagine how much this would impact the city if we had a ransomware or cyberware attack, so I think this is money well spent”

Meyer noted that the grant would not be renewable and the city would have to budget for the cost of the service for upcoming years. The grant covers a single year, with Illumio carrying a yearly expense between $25,000-$30,000.

Mayor Scott Decker agreed with Odermann that despite the price tag, it would be money well spent.

“It's amazing how many times a day the state and city get attacked…” Mayor Decker added.

The city would have to budget for the continued and future costs beginning in 2024.

The Federal Government has created a variety of grant programs aimed at providing IT departments for municipalities with safeguards against cyber attacks. Applications can be submitted through the state of North Dakota to offset the added costs of adapting a Zero Trust network.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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