'FiveThirtyEight' untangles Detroit's IT mess



Following the news of the failed Detroit hacker ransom from earlier this year, MT's investigative reporter Ryan Felton took a look at the city's numerous tech vulnerabilities for analysis blog FiveThirtyEight on Tuesday.

The piece, cheekily titled "Before Detroit Can Move On, It Needs To Upgrade From Windows XP," outlines numerous problems the city government faces when it comes to its technology infrastructure — detailing an archaic system in such a mess that it'll require much more than just the latest Windows upgrade: 

Chuck Moore, a consultant for the city, described one fire station’s Rube Goldberg machine in September during testimony in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial: When an emergency alert comes in, a fax machine is triggered. This shoots out a piece of paper, which knocks over a soda can full of change, notifying those at the station of the situation. At another station, a fax comes in and bumps a door hinge, which pulls a wire and rings a doorbell.

With such a broken foundation, the city’s IT systems have been rendered effectively dysfunctional. Niblock prepared a report that was filed in the city’s bankruptcy detailing the vast problems she discovered: More than 80 percent of the city’s 5,500 computers are more than five years old, and 85 percent are equipped with Windows XP, an operating system that “by virtue of its age, is far from top of the line,” she wrote. Microsoft doesn’t even support XP anymore, and the city has been using a version of Microsoft Office that’s a decade old.

Read Felton's full story over at FiveThirtyEight.


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