On the heels of a cyberattack that grounded city services in Atlanta, employees entrusted with protecting their agencies trained on how to thwart attacks during two courses at the University of West Florida.
The UWF Center for Cybersecurity partnered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services to host the courses on May 10-11 at the UWF Conference Center. Employees from the FDLE, Escambia County Board of County Commissioners, Escambia County School District, Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners and First Judicial Circuit of Florida, among others, participated in the training sessions less than two months after the ransomware attack in Atlanta.
“I think the best solutions are always the collaborative ones, so that we can combine efforts to bring more cybersecurity knowledge and awareness to the community and enhance the resiliency of our region and state,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, UWF Center for Cybersecurity director.
The first course focused on examining various types of cyberattacks, how communities are vulnerable to attacks and incidents and what types of organizations are targeted. The second course provided strategies and processes to increase cyber resilience. Participants analyzed cyber threats, evaluated the process for developing a cyber preparedness program and discovered little to no cost resources to help build cyber resilience.
Molly Akin, special agent supervisor with the FDLE, cited crimes against children, fraud, theft of intellectual property, network intrusions, business email compromises, denial of service and website defacements as cybercrimes her agency investigates.
Victims of cybercrimes in Florida lost an estimated $110 million in 2017, according to the 2017 Internet Crime Report recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The report also noted that Florida victims reported losses of $62 million in business email compromise schemes and $10 million in losses due to personal or corporate data breaches. Florida ranked third in the nation in the highest dollar loss for victims.
Akin said the FDLE is forming a Cyber Working Group for Region 1, which covers Bay, Calhoun, Escambia, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Washington counties. Akin is seeking volunteers for the committee.
“I want us to have lines of communication,” Akin said. “I want us to have meetings where we can discuss what we’re seeing, things we can work on. The most important thing to me is to establish this group so we can see what this region needs in terms of cyber.”
David Stafford, Escambia County supervisor of elections, participated in both courses. He described the trainings as informative as he prepares to defend against any potential cyberattacks during the upcoming midterm elections. Stafford said the UWF Center for Cybersecurity is a valuable asset for his office in cyber defense.
“One of the things we recognized pretty quickly is we had a tremendous resource in our back yard, literally, with the UWF Center for Cybersecurity,” Stafford said. “Early on, I picked up the phone and called Eman and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got needs, you’ve got resources. Can we work together?’”
In May 2016, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security designated UWF as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. Those same governing agencies designated UWF as the Center of Academic Excellence Regional Resource Center for the Southeast U.S. In that role, UWF provides guidance on cyber defense education to colleges and universities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Puerto Rico.
“One of the reasons I think FDLE works well with the Center for Cybersecurity is because they have already established themselves as the Northwest Florida/Panhandle area’s place for cybersecurity,” Akin said. “They’re ahead of everything and we know it. They’re nationally known for the things they are doing here.”