Microsoft Is Teaching Cybersecurity to Cities Around the World—For Free

An aerial view of the downtown Chicago, 2014.

An aerial view of the downtown Chicago, 2014. Alex Menendez/AP

Cybersecurity isn’t just an issue for the feds and big companies like Google and Facebook. Cities of all sizes around the world are increasingly reliant on information systems that could be vulnerable to attack.

That’s why Microsoft is volunteering its cybersecurity expertise, free of charge, to select city governments through 100 Resilient Cities, a non-profit organization funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. “We’ll lead workshops for multiple cities over a period of time to share what we’ve learned from operating some the world’s largest data centers,” says Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental and cities strategist.

The effort is just one of the ways that 100 Resilient Cities helps modern cities face the future. Founded in 2013, the organization defines resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” This could range from climate change and natural disasters to crime to public transportation—anything that affects their ability to provide services.

“By 2050, three fourths of all people people are going to live in cities,” says the organization’s communications director, Max Young. “Then there’s climate change accelerating the number of shocks that cities face. We saw a problem that was going to be concentrated in one place—cities—so we created 100 Resilient Cities as a method for implementing solutions.”

Selected cities are then given funds to hire a “chief resilience officer” to help the city identify projects that can improve the city’s resilience. “A chief resilience officer would be required to make sure all projects serve multiple purposes,” says Young. “So a new road wouldn’t be just a road, it would be an elevated road that serves as a flood barrier, is well lit for public safety, connects a neighborhood with poor access to health care with one with good access, etc. So the one project does a lot.”

Although the foundation provides funding to pay the chief resilience officer’s salary, neither the 100 Resilient Cities nor the Rockefeller Foundation has any say in who the cities hire, which companies, if any, they work with, or what projects they take on. It also connects cities with consulting companies like McKinsey that will help cities create strategies, or technology companies like Microsoft and Palantir, who will help implement those strategies. All of these companies work for the cities pro bono.

“What we provide is the suite of platform partners who are providing services to the city for free, and we provide deep expertise,” says Young.

But perhaps its most important function is as a matchmaker to help cities connect so that they can learn from each other. Medellín, Columbia is learning about earthquake preparation from San Francisco, while New York City is learning about flooding from the Dutch city Rotterdam, and Byblos, Lebanon is learning about cultural heritage preservation from Rome, Italy.

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