Digital defenders prepare for war at this Florida training center

While attention on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine focuses on conventional weapons, there are also worries about a 21st century tactic – cyber warfare. The University of West Florida is engaged in this sector.

Cyber ​​warfare includes denial of service attacks, hacker attacks, and the spread of disinformation and propaganda.

“Recent notices indicate that Russia has launched cyberattacks against Ukrainian organizations and [the] government; and that imposes risks, of course, on individuals and organizations here in the United States and around the world,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the Center for Cybersecurity at the University of West Florida.

From where she is seated, El-Sheikh says the attempts are targeting areas affecting the most people in given areas, such as electric utilities, water supply systems and other organizations serving large populations, including in the United States.

“Some of the advisories indicated that our critical infrastructure could be at risk,” she said. “There have been indications that Russian actors have attempted to target defense contractors for the United States to somehow try to obtain potential information.”

Keep in mind, says El-Sheikh, that cyber threats are ongoing; a slight uptick, perhaps, but the kind of alerts that should send threat warning signals to be prepared for threats from Russia — or elsewhere. In other words, a little due diligence beforehand helps both at work and at home.

“Make sure your software and systems are up to date, schedule automatic updates for everything, strong and unique passwords, and don’t share your passwords,” El-Sheikh said. “Enable multi-factor authentication for your home computers, ensure routers are secure.”

Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, Director, UWF Cybersecurity Center

If you’re not sure if a website or attachment is safe, El-Sheikh says don’t click on it. If you are affected, don’t panic, stay calm, seek help, and fix the problem.

“Other advice: backup systems, backup information data; we have had, even during the pandemic, an increase in ransomware attacks,” El-Sheikh said. “The best kind of protection against ransomware is to make sure that everything you need you have saved somewhere so you don’t get hit by a ransomware attack.”

Identifying who is who among the Ether(net) villains is a particular challenge. The UWF Center for Cybersecurity works with the FBI and other federal agencies to monitor threat alerts and their origins — what it calls a very complex process.

“What we’re seeing more of is collaboration between these agencies and industry partners to share threat intelligence,” El-Sheikh said. “And also now, international collaboration to kind of help share information that could be used to thwart potential attacks.”

The key role played by the UWF, among other cyber guardians, is education, training and awareness – running the national workforce development program – training veterans in the businesses of critical infrastructure security.

“There is a need for more skills and more qualified professionals in critical infrastructure, whether it is our energy companies, our energy companies, our utilities, our financial services, our sub- defense contractors,” El-Sheikh said. “And we have programs to help train and onboard individuals into cybersecurity roles.”

The next class, totaling 38 students, begins class next week. Those who complete it will earn industry certifications and strive to advance to roles in cyberspace.

“Our graduates are employed by energy companies, by the Navy Federal Credit Union, [and] by other departments and organizations in energy, defense and finance,” she said. “And we also welcome organizations looking to hire.”

More information is available at uwf.edu/cybersecurity.

Copyright 2022 WUWF. To see more, visit WUWF.

Milton S. Rodgers