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How the FBI Is Working with Louisiana Tech Leaders to Stop Cybersecurity Threats

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More Louisiana businesses should team up with other companies and law enforcement to combat cybersecurity threats in Louisiana, an FBI agent with a long history fighting Internet crimes told Baton Rouge security professionals Wednesday.

The presentation by FBI Special Agent Corey Harris came at the Geaux Cyber community meetup at Louisiana Technology Park. The group was created to connect the growing cybersecurity community in south Louisiana.

Harris is the acting cyber supervisor for the FBI’s New Orleans Division and has led the investigation and prosecution of high-profile cybercrimes in Louisiana and beyond since 2003. He outlined some existing cybersecurity collaborations in Louisiana, including Infragard, a partnership between the FBI and the private sector to share information about cybersecurity threats. But he said additional partnerships are needed to combat cyberthreats.

“We all need to come together as a community and really work and help each other,” Harris said. “Because if not, the bad guys are going to win.”

Here are a few ways Harris said Louisiana companies can help reduce the risk of cyberattacks — both for their own organizations and the larger business community.

By Sharing Information with Other Organizations

Harris said that when he arrived in Louisiana in he discovered that most large companies were not working with each other to prevent cyber attacks. “Everybody wanted to do their own thing … and you’re not going to be able to keep up the way technology is evolving,” he said.

He said one of his first actions in the state was to gather large health care providers in a cybersecurity working group, an initiative he said has helped Louisiana companies share information and prevent cyber attacks even as health care breaches became more commonplace across the country.

He encouraged other Louisiana companies to forge agreements designed to share information on security threats. If necessary, he said, the organizations can sign memoranda of understanding stipulating that information shared through the partnerships stays within the group and can’t be used for a competitive advantage.

Another option, which Harris spearheads, is InfraGard, an association of representatives from businesses, academic institutions, and state and local law enforcement agencies dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the U.S. Members get access to a portal that shares information on cybersecurity threats, including up-to-date indicators that help administrators. The group also holds regular meetings across the state each year.

Wednesday’s meeting at the Louisiana Technology Park was one of the first gatherings for the Geaux Cyber meetup. One of the organizers, Ballast founder and CEO Brandon Reeves, said the group plans to meet at least quarterly to bring together local cybersecurity professionals. He said all skill levels are welcome to participate.

“The rason this group is together is for building a community in Baton Rouge of people that are subject-matter experts, that are professionals, that are interested in cybersecurity to really start bringing that awareness,” Reeves said. “Because regardless of where you're at or what business you’re in, everybody is having the same issues. We’re all fighting the same problems, and it’s probably easier for us to lock arms and fight them together rather than fight them alone.”

By Understanding the Threats

Ransomware, thumb drives with malware and insider threats are top security concerns for businesses, but Harris said federal agents are increasingly seeing email scams targeting wire transfers at companies.

The so-called “business email compromise” scam usually involves a perpetrator pretending to be a CEO or another authority figure within the business and requesting a wire transfer to an overseas account not connected with the company. Companies nationwide have lost billions annually through these types of schemes in recent years, Harris said.

“By the time a lot of the companies find out what exactly occurred, it’s too late,” he said. “The money is already overseas. You’ll never get it back.”

Harris said the FBI gets four or five calls a day related to business email compromise scams in Louisiana. “Some of them are really sophisticated, and some of the companies just don’t have good practices,” he said.

By Taking Steps to Protect Your Company

“One of the big questions I get is ‘How much security do I need to implement?’ ” Harris said. “I tell them ‘How much are you willing to lose?’ It’s a balancing act.”

In the case of wire-transfer scams, he said the solution may be as simple as setting up two-factor authentication or requiring two people to sign off to initiate a transfer. He also suggested that in any case where a request seems out of the ordinary, the business’ employees should communicate through something other than email or text message to verify the request’s authenticity. “People don’t want to pick up the phone anymore,” he said.

He said that even small companies need to develop a basic cybersecurity plan to protect their data and their business operations. For starters, he said, a backup system is vital — but is overlooked by a lot of firms. “You’d be surprised how many companies still don’t have backups,” he said, even though they are a good defense against ransomware attacks that hold vital information hostage with an encryption key in exchange for a monetary payment.

By Reporting Threats to Authorities

Harris said the FBI encourages Louisiana organizations to report cyberattacks to its New Orleans office. “If you’re seeing something, give us a call,” he said. “Let us know if something is not right and we’ll work with you. We’ve got some really sharp people.”

Smaller incidents or attempts that don’t result in theft can be reported through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. “If it’s something big where a lot of data was stolen, we definitely want to take a look at that,” he said.

Harris said that in certain cases, the FBI can install a device to mimic a company’s network and observe what a hacker is attempting to access or alter. “We want to see exactly what they’re trying to steal,” he says. “We have other techniques we can use, but we need your assistance.”

 

Stephen Loy