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City Unveils App for Citizen Cybersecurity

The mobile application is purpose-built to alert users to potential cyber and phishing threats while on the move.

Screen mockup from Zimperium, Dallas company that provides mobile cybersecurity.
More and more, large metros are using enterprise solutions for citizen engagement, as tech companies that traditionally sold in the private sector continue to open product offerings to the public sector.

Dallas Secure is one such solution — an enterprise-grade application that has been implemented to give citizens the power to keep their mobile experiences secure.

The free mobile app launched this week in Dallas, where city leaders have an eye to helping residents and visitors guard against cybersecurity threats to mobile devices.

Dallas CIO William Bill Zielinski at Digital Cities Summit (1).jpg
Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski
“We’re increasingly pushing out more and more digital services. Whether they are direct-delivery services, like our city’s 311 mobile app [people] can use to report problems or request services, or any other number of services that we provide in both the digital world as well as in the physical world — I think it's just part and parcel to that,” Dallas CIO Bill Zielinski told Industry Insider — Texas.

“We are looking to provide ... digital options for our residents, and we need to ensure that while they’re availing themselves of those options, that they can be secure.”

The Dallas Secure application is built by Dallas-based Zimperium. The company “provides on-device mobile threat defense to protect growing and evolving mobile environments,” according to its spokesperson.

It is downloadable from the Apple App and Google Play stores and features include:
  • Blocking phishing texts
  • Preventing users from downloading malicious apps
  • Warning mobile users against unsafe Wi-Fi networks

“The whole concept of the Secure program was to bring enterprise-grade mobile security to the normal citizen and be able to protect them,” said Zimperium CEO Shridhar Mittal. “It’s an app out of the box, which we customized for Dallas, but there are some nuances for the specific needs for the Dallas residents.”

Anyone in or around Dallas may download the app. Unlike similar applications used in a corporate setting, Mittal said, Dallas Secure will not need to know one’s location or personal information to work. It is built and maintained by Zimperium, while marketing and outreach will be done by the city.

“We need to do something for the citizen, as well, and how can we bring enterprise-grade capabilities to the citizen? This is a growing problem,” he said. “If you look at phishing, I mean, everybody gets phishing emails and items and texts. So how do we protect ... the elderly, students ... people tend to click on the things — as much as everyone knows not to click on it — then 18 percent still click.”

“We are creating the product and delivering it to the stores,” Mittal said. “We will keep delivering as latest and greatest threats keep coming up. We will keep delivering and adding to the product as we go along.”

Zielinski said the solution is “baked into [Dallas’] operating budget. It’s a relatively low-cost item in terms of yearly cost that's associated with a very simple, straightforward cost structure.”

According to the Robokiller website, more than 47 billion spam texts were sent in November, translating to 173 for every U.S. resident.

Dallas leaders view spam and surrounding problems as digital equity and public safety issues.

The city’s 2020 Broadband and Digital Equity Strategic Plan identifies ways to bridge the digital divide through infrastructure investments, public-private partnerships and programming.

“When the pandemic came in, everything just shut down,” Zielinski said. “We really cut off quite an important asset [city buildings with Internet and computing] to our city residents, and it became very clear to us that we needed to double down on our efforts to ensure that all our residents have access to the Internet in their homes, access to low-cost, high-speed Internet, and that they also have the tools available to them to be able to utilize the network in their home. But what that also means is that we’re asking people to go online where it’s not necessarily always a safe and friendly place.

“Increasingly, what you see is more and more people are actually using their mobile devices to be able to access different things online,” Zielinski added. “We were looking [for] the ways we can educate people and help keep them safe, and somewhere along the line … we came together, and Shridhar and his folks talked to us about what they were doing in other locations like Los Angeles, New York and Michigan, and it just made perfect sense to us. If we’re asking to get more people online, in that journey to going online for digital equity, part of that is ensuring that they can do so securely. So, it’s just a natural fit.”
Rae D. DeShong is a Dallas-based staff writer and has written for The Dallas Morning News and worked as a community college administrator.