With 2018 midterms looming, Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford said his office has invested considerable time and resources to make sure they are prepared to thwart possible cyberattacks.
Those efforts include working with the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity.
“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 (Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the Center for Cybersecurity) and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got needs, you’ve got resources. Can we work together?’”
Stafford was one of a host of local officials who attended cybersecurity conferences held Thursday and Friday, May 10-11, at the UWF Conference Center. The courses were designed to help prepare businesses, government agencies and other organizations for potential cyber threats. The seminars were hosted by the Center for Cybersecurity, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services.
“I think the best solutions are always the collaborative solutions, so that we can combine efforts to be able to bring more knowledge and awareness to the community and help the resiliency of what we do as a region and as a state,” El-Sheikh said.
The courses focused on the different types of cyberattacks, what types of organizations are most prone to those threats and how to develop strategies for dealing with them. Molly Akin, special agent supervisor with the FDLE, said the biggest cyber threats law enforcement officials often deal with come from those who already have inside knowledge of companies.
“In other words, you have someone who already has all the accesses to that agency, and sometimes their accesses aren’t removed accordingly after they’re let go,” Akin said. “A lot of the cases that we’ll see are people who are able to get back into a network to really infiltrate a company.”
Other agencies represented at the workshops included county commissioners from Escambia and Okaloosa, the Escambia County School District and the First Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Akin said the Center for Cybersecurity has earned a reputation nationally for its work in the field.
“One of the reasons I think FDLE works well with the Center for Cybersecurity is because they have already established themselves for the Northwest Florida/Panhandle area as the 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.”
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.