Advancing Emergency Response Security with Autonomous Pentesting

by | May 9, 2024 | Customer Stories

Strengthening PSAP Defenses in an Evolving Threat Landscape

Cybersecurity is paramount for the public safety sector as it safeguards critical infrastructure, sensitive data, and communication systems vital for emergency response, law enforcement, and national security. In an increasingly interconnected world, where digital technologies infiltrate every aspect of society, vulnerabilities in these systems can be exploited by malicious actors to disrupt emergency services, compromise sensitive information, or even endanger lives. A robust cybersecurity posture not only protects against potential cyber threats and attacks but also ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of essential services, thereby upholding resilience of public safety systems.

Specifically, 911 call centers, also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), frequently draw the attention of cyber threat actors because of their pivotal function in emergency response, making them attractive targets for disruption and ransomware attacks capable of incapacitating essential services. Additionally, the sensitive information stored within PSAP networks and systems, including Personal Identifiable Information (PII) and Personal Health Information (PHI), present lucrative opportunities for data theft and exploitation.


To make a big impact worldwide in thwarting ransomware and other cyberattacks by making sophisticated cyber defense solutions with human supervision affordable to organizations worldwide.

  • Year Founded: 2007
  • Number of Employees: >20
  • Operational Reach: Global

Threat Intelligence

In May 2023, a ransomware attack targeted the city of Dallas by the Royal Ransomware gang, leading to the shutdown of court systems and disruptions in 911 emergency services. The attack affected various city services, including the police department’s ability to access certain databases. The outage has also impacted Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems, which are used by dispatchers and 911 operators to prioritize and record incident calls. While city officials assured that emergency calls were still being answered, the incident highlighted the significant impact cyberattacks can have on critical infrastructure and essential services.

In a recent interview with Brian Beckwith, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Intuitus, he explained that Intuitus “deals primarily in helping 911 call centers (PSAPs), and who those call centers support, to make sure their environments are secure.” Intuitus, a full-service cybersecurity and consulting solution with a 24/7 Security Operations Center (SOC), is the leading voice in cybersecurity for 911/NG911 PSAP organizations worldwide. Additionally, they participate in industry organizations such as National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) international, and other 911/NG911 PSAP community members.

“When there is a cyberattack on a PSAP, there is the potential for loss of life due to the caller not being able to get through to the 911 call center. Our job is to prevent that situation. We specialize in knowing the cyber threat actor’s tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) so we can protect organizations from those things.”

More than just protecting communications

“With legacy 911 systems, moving to a more IP-based solution is opening up a new world for 911,” explains Brian. So, rewriting and iterating on NG911 cybersecurity regulations, policies, and guidelines is key to keeping pace with the evolving cyber threats and fortify cybersecurity defenses. According to CISA, “the 911 system requires stable, safe, and resilient communications” and pointed to two things that all PSAPs should do to improve their overall cybersecurity:

  • Cybersecurity risk assessments
  • Cyber incident response and vulnerability response plans

Cybersecurity risk assessments are crucial for PSAPs because they help identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses within their systems proactively, allowing them to prioritize resources and implement effective security measures to mitigate risks. Additionally, having robust cyber incident response and vulnerability response plans is essential, as they enable PSAPs security teams to respond swiftly and effectively to cyberattacks. Intuitus also offers its customers SOC as a Service with Managed Detection & Response (MDR) as a fully self-contained solution that can be rapidly deployed into the existing infrastructure.

In the context of cybersecurity risks assessments, we at Horizon3.ai have seen our customers implement a regular cadence of penetration (aka “pen”) testing to ensure that they are continuously assessing their infrastructure to stay ahead of cyber threats. In general, most facets of the public safety sector have yearly cyber risk assessment requirements. However, this infrequent assessment schedule means that any new threats introduced after the assessment won’t be identified or mitigated promptly, leaving the organization exposed to potential breaches or attacks.

“Most PSAPs only conduct a once-a-year pentest, and don’t do pentesting all the time.”

Further, changes in the organization’s IT infrastructure, software updates, and the introduction of new technologies can also introduce new vulnerabilities that would remain unaddressed until the next annual assessment, further increasing the risk of cyber incidents.

Enter NodeZero™

With the increased focus on ensuring PSAPs are following national and international cybersecurity regulations, policies, and guidelines, as well as conducting cyber risk assessments yearly, Brian needed to find a solution that could increase Intuitus’ pentesting footprint and blast radius. He also wanted something that was easy to use, straightforward, and required less training time to learn. Moreover, he wanted something that could “enable digestible conversations with…customers and simplify what security measures must be taken to mitigate vulnerabilities in their environment quickly.” With Intuitus expanding not only in the U.S. but internationally, they needed a tool that could enable them to keep pace with their growing demand for continuous pentesting.

After testing a few competitors that offer similar functionality and capabilities as NodeZero, Brian mentions that the tools “just didn’t do it right, not the way NodeZero does.” What we often find is that other “pentesting tools” can’t do what NodeZero does, and sometimes involve on-prem solutions that are complex and require additional training for in-house pentesters. Brian can use NodeZero right away, without needing to train his pentesters or attend lengthy instruction on how to run a pentest, use 1-Click Verify, or read reports. Additionally, this ease of use allows Brian and his team to foster better relationships with his customers because the reports are not overly complicated, yet they provide detail and give actionable guidance for even the novice user.

“NodeZero enables me to have a relationship with a customer that I wouldn’t have otherwise had without the tool”

Compliance for Everyone

As with almost all sectors and industries worldwide, when it comes to cybersecurity compliance, there is always a regulation or policy to comply with to meet minimum operating standards. According to Brian, “most of our pentests are performed because of some compliance regulation that needs to happen or that our customer must comply with.” Intuitus customers often require an audit with proof of a pentest and mitigation results to meet compliance requirements.

Auditors require pentests for compliance reasons to verify that an organization’s cybersecurity defenses are robust and effective against cyber threats, ensuring adherence to industry standards and regulatory requirements. Pentesting provides concrete evidence of security posture and readiness, helping organizations demonstrate due diligence in protecting sensitive data and systems. “One of our supply chain customers needed a pentest, and we told them that we can easily do that so they could meet the newly established [at that time] supply chain compliance standards,” Brian shared – another example of how NodeZero is enabling Intuitus to meet nearly all of their customers cybersecurity needs/requirements.

“100% of our [Intuitus] pentesting business we’re doing today; we would not be doing if we didn’t have NodeZero… Horizon3.ai has given us 20% more capability than any other tool we have used or demo’d. We have added many more customers to our business because we offer pentesting services.”

To Wrap it Up

By partnering with Horizon3.ai, Intuitus uses NodeZero as a force multiplier. Brian wanted to implement and offer in-house pentesting to ensure Intuitus is seen as a “trusted advisor, helping us continue to grow and maintain our full service offering to customers.” Additionally, Intuitus’ pivotal role within the public safety space ensures PSAPs are meeting and exceeding compliance standards, while also enabling them to stay ahead of threats and hardened against constantly evolving threats.

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