Homeland Security and Public Safety

New Jersey's Cyber Fusion Cell Collaborates on Cyberthreats

The Cyber Fusion Cell improves the state's ability to share information on cyberthreats by collaborating with public- and private-sector entities.

Online security breaches continue to be a serious and growing problem for public agencies. In April, the U.S. Department of Labor website was hacked, while just a couple of years ago, Anonymous wreaked havoc on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit online portal, leaking contact information for various site subscribers.

In response to these types of attacks and more sophisticated threats, states and municipalities have sought to employ the latest cybersecurity software to protect their interests. But quite a few have gone a step beyond that, creating dedicated cybersecurity operations centers and task forces to respond to and prepare for digital threats.

New Jersey is one of the most recent examples. The state launched the Cyber Fusion Cell as a part of its Regional Operation Intelligence Center in January. The intelligence center interfaces with the state’s law enforcement community by being a primary point of contact for collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence data.

The Cyber Fusion Cell takes those efforts further by improving New Jersey’s ability to share information on cyberthreats by collaborating with key public- and private-sector entities.

The unit is made up of two parts. The first half consists of New Jersey staff members who monitor the state’s network infrastructure, computer systems and firewalls. The other element is a workgroup of high-level executives that meets to discuss intelligence and strategies to handle the latest cyberthreats.

New Jersey’s Cyber Fusion Cell isn’t unique, however. Similar entities exist in Washington state, Washington, D.C., and other large urban centers nationwide. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, regional jurisdictions have combined to launch the Public Regional Information Security Event Management System. Local governments there send security logs to the group, which watches for threats against the region’s digital landscape.

Back in New Jersey, officials are still ironing out the operational component of the Cyber Fusion Cell. Although trained specialists are available to handle a cyberevent if one occurs, state CIO Steve Emanuel says the state is adjusting its processes in the wake of two cyberattack drills conducted last year.

First, a one-day, state-run exercise enabled cybersecurity analysts to fine-tune their response capabilities. The second event was the FEMA 2012 National Level Exercise that focused on the nation’s response to a series of cyberevents. New Jersey is studying the experiences to devise more effective strategies to address digital attacks with the Cyber Fusion Cell.

“We were able to test when a simulated attack occurred and what steps were to be taken to address the threat and respond,” said John Essner, New Jersey’s chief information security officer. “And that allowed us to run procedures, identify gaps and hopefully correct those gaps over a period of time.”

Brian Heaton  | 

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.