All engineers working on this project were required to be Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) certified. CJIS is a certifying agency that puts together compliance regulations and checkpoints that need to be adhered to by law enforcement agencies. This ensures that sensitive information and data is transmitted carefully and that only people with proper access can view and/or handle it.
There were roughly 50 to 60 requirements set forth in the FBI audit, all of which the Shalimar Police Department had to be in compliance with within 60 days of receiving the information. Shalimar Chief of Police, John Cash, says some of these requirements were as simple as making sure you have signage on your door or adequate passwords on your computer, while others were much more complex.
“Our IT services were not with the Town of Shalimar. [Our networks] weren’t separated. Our emails weren’t secure as far as the requirements that were coming above us on the deadline set by the FBI,” says Cash. “The most important part was to make sure all information was separated between law enforcement and non-law enforcement. We couldn’t be connected in any way where information could be getting out.”
Director of Solution Consulting at Bit-Wizards, Jason Monroe, says this requires extensive network security setup and hardening all around.
“The Shalimar Police Department did not have the technology or the IT expertise to pass this audit,” says Monroe. “When we came in, the Town of Shalimar and the police department had a hodgepodge of technology, from their email services to how they were managing their document storage.”
And their deadline was looming.
“We had two weeks from the time we had Bit-Wizards under contract to be in compliance and meet the deadline of the FBI audit,” says Cash. “So, we were in crunch time.”
Bit-Wizards immediately jumped in.
“We started to look at where they were lacking,” says Monroe. “We got a copy of the actual requirements for the audit that was coming up, and we started working our way backwards.”
Senior Infrastructure Engineer, Michael Chance, served as the Technical Team Lead on the project. He says that Bit-Wizards does network discovery for security and compliance vulnerabilities with every client.
“Shalimar Police Department had a flat network, which means they only had a single network for all their police officers, computers for their town hall employees, and any guests that happened to be at City Hall at the time.”
Bit-Wizards started working to split the police department network in half to keep the town administration side separate.
“This network was, for the most part, secure,” says Chance. “But there were guest network devices, such as cell phones and personally owned laptops, that were on the same network. For the police department to pass their inspection, we had to separate their network out from everything else and ensure that no other part of the network could access any of the police department's assets.”
Chance says the police department also needed a firewall that is able to maintain logs of everything that happens on their network. To meet these requirements, Bit-Wizards installed a federally compliant firewall, the Fortinet 61 F, which has advanced logging and retention. Bit-Wizards also replaced Shalimar PD’s unmanaged network hardware, such as switches and wireless access points, with managed switches and wireless access points.
“This allows us to keep the traffic on their network separated and secure,” says Chance.
In addition to addressing the Shalimar Police Department’s network security, Bit-Wizards also standardized their services across the board.
“They had disparate email systems, meaning they were using multiple email platforms for communications within the city,” says Chance. “We consolidated their email systems into a single, managed Office 365 environment. In and of itself, this is a great solution for anyone looking for compliance. But at Bit-Wizards, we have our own set of security and compliance rules that we apply to the Office 365 system to harden that system even more.”
And because every member of the Bit-Wizards Managed It Services team is CJIS certified, the tight deadline faced by Shalimar PD became much more manageable.
“A single engineer wasn’t having to do everything,” says Chance. “We were able to pull from our entire team so that one engineer could be managing the network while another engineer was handling the email migration. In order to meet this time crunch, every one of our experts in various disciplines throughout the field contributed.”
This also made communication between Bit-Wizards and Shalimar PD easy and streamlined.
“We could call at any time and speak to anybody, without being put on hold and waiting 10 minutes or an hour to talk to somebody who could answer our question,” says Cash. “They were all certified to be able to do that immediately.”
The town of Shalimar’s Deputy Clerk and Bit-Wizards' main point of contact for the project, Jessica Rehr, says this level of communication made all the difference.
“During the process, the communication with Bit-Wizards was phenomenal. Even if I was sending an email, I would get a reply back immediately. They would usually answer questions for me before I even asked them.”
When the deadline came, the FBI auditor, the FDLE auditor, the Police Chief, and the Police Commissioner all met at the Shalimar Police Department for two hours.
“The day of the inspection, we passed the FBI audit,” says Cash. “They walked the facility and made sure all the requirements were on each desktop computer, or on each device we use to transmit CJIS information. All the mechanisms were there to meet that. It was organized to the point where they didn’t have to spend five or six hours with us, as they did at other agencies, because of what we had already accomplished with Bit-Wizards during that two-week period.”
Cash says all the stress was relieved.
“The auditors looked at certain things and were impressed with how we had everything set up. There weren’t any questionable areas that they needed to ask about or we needed to go into. Bit-Wizards had already set up everything that we needed to pass the audit.”
As excited as Cash was to pass, he says the learning experience was priceless.
“During this whole process, we were able to sit with the Bit-Wizards team in the office as they taught us everything and showed us each step on the new computer system and services.”
The knowledge that Bit-Wizards provided is what Rehr says she appreciates most.
“They’re educated across the board. Any issue that arises with IT services, they explain it well enough to where you can understand it. And they’re patient. No matter what question you have, and no matter how many questions you have, they can answer.”
The ability and willingness to educate clients is something that Bit-Wizards prides itself on.
“We can go out and hire a great IT person, but if they don't know how to talk to our clients and customers without tech speaking at them, it's just not good for us,” says Monroe. “We want to make sure our clients feel comfortable with what we're doing moving forward and that they understand it.”
Monroe agrees that far more than a passing score was gained.
“Not only are we able to keep the Shalimar Police Department compliant but we are also able to provide them with enterprise security, a level of comfort that they need to be successful in their jobs every single day, and IT that actually works for them instead of causing them frustrations.”
And the message from Shalimar PD is clear.
“Go to Bit-Wizards. Don’t go to anybody else,” says Cash. “The professionalism was awesome. The educational level was awesome. The interaction was awesome. I would not recommend anybody else to meet your IT needs. Bit-Wizards can do it all.”
For more information on how managed IT services can help public safety agencies, read our article here.