Calcasieu hosts first-of-its-kind cybersecurity summit in wake of recent ransomware attacks

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) – It’s no secret the pandemic has put a lot of our daily practices into question, and with many businesses and civilians resorting to a virtual lifestyle, hackers have been working nonstop. But how prepared is the Lake Area for a major cyber attack?

The past year’s COVID-19 pandemic marked an unparalleled turning point that has completely changed the world as we know it. When businesses and organizations from many industries rushed to establish business continuity from home, hackers took full advantage of the remote work conditions that provided easy targets in insecure environments.

Dozens of state and local officials participated in a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity summit at the McNeese Seed Center hosted by the Calcasieu Police Jury.

The invite-only event was designated for city, parish, state and federal cybersecurity professionals to raise awareness of the “see something say something” theme in cybersecurity in hopes of preventing a ransomware attack like that seen in the Colonial Pipeline breach.

Two months ago, there was a mad dash for gas and nearly two years ago, OMV services across the state came to a screeching halt.

RELATED: Gasoline supply in Lake Charles following Colonial Pipeline shutdown

RELATED: Louisiana OMV offices to remain closed Wednesday afternoon

It’s a sign of peculiar times, intensified by a global pandemic.

”We don’t want Southwest Louisiana to be on the news for another event, this time being a cyber event. So, this is our attempt to help combat that,” Joshua Tannehill said.

With over 20 years of Information Technology experience, Tannehill, who serves as the Telecommunications Sector Chief for Infragard Louisiana, has helped stop dozens of cyber threats nationwide and here at home.

“There’s lots of reconnaissance that the bad actors do: Russian, China, North Korea – they’re doing reconnaissance on our networks daily,” Tannehill said.

According to Tannehill, in addition to the pandemic, the number of natural disasters the area has faced hasn’t helped in making Southwest Louisiana less of a target.

”There’s no sympathy on them like, ‘oh, they went through a hurricane, we better leave them alone.’ They don’t think that way. They go for the softest targets,” Tannehill said.

A new school year and COVID-19 cases surging are reasons why local and parish officials hosted the summit Tuesday.

“Just strictly the Calcasieu Police Jury, it would be, probably, in the hundreds of attacks that we have documented and responded to, just this year alone,” Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Technology Director Charles Burton said.

Burton said the training is critical for an area still in full recovery mode.

“And it’s really about protecting the community because we’re here to serve the community – that’s what local government is for. And we’re protecting all of our assets. So, that’s what we’re trying to do today,” Burton said.

Along with an increase in cyber attacks, Tannehill said there’s also a critical shortage of trained cybersecurity analysts.

“There’s a number of cybersecurity jobs that need to be filled,” Tannehill said. “We need more women and minorities and diversity in cybersecurity. If you have a bunch of the same people trying to solve these cybersecurity problems, we’re going to solve them the same way. We need more diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity,” Tannehill said.

The event featured guest speakers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Guard Bureau, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and other leaders across law enforcement, local government as well as education and healthcare industry executives who discussed a range of topics.

Governments are now pushing for cybersecurity measures with the hopes of preventing devastating data breaches and reducing the risk of ransomware. As a recent example, the Department of Energy kicked off a new initiative between government agencies and the private industry to protect the U.S. power grid from cyberattacks. From awareness training and policies to forming task forces and preparedness, states are progressively proposing new legislation to improve the cybersecurity infrastructure.

Copyright 2021 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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