For the third year in a row, North Dakota’s top cybersecurity experts got together to discuss the state’s ever-evolving response to these unseen attacks.
Although it was done online this year, the discussion was maybe more pressing than ever before.
Right now, the state is seeing about 3,000 cyber events in the security operations centers every week.
This is up significantly from pre-pandemic North Dakota, according to the state’s IT Department, but the state’s Chief Information Security Officer, Kevin Ford, says if anyone is equipped to handle the current challenge, it’s NDIT.
North Dakota was one of the very first, if not the first state, to build an IT program.
“We’re starting to really understand the problem, and that’s where we are now. We’re starting to understand that the attacks that we’re seeing on the state network are maybe more than we ever thought they were. Right? And it’s because we never had the tools in place to measure,” Ford explained.
He says now, even though threats are up, the state is also improving its response all the time. The state’s network has a firewall that protects against most of the attacks.
“That traffic that we don’t let through is in the millions,” Ford added. “So, the internet’s a dirty place.”
What’s new in the COVID-era is increased attacks of opportunity.
“When you take your computer off of the protected state network and plug it into the wifi, if there’s something bad there, you know, your computer is exposed,” Ford said.
“Very few people could’ve planned for this,” shared Dr. James Leiman, the Director of Economic Development and Finance for the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
Dr. Leiman has firsthand experience adapting to a more cyber-vulnerable environment.
To put it simply, the department was tasked with keeping the state and private businesses profitable throughout the pandemic, after a huge percentage of the workforce moved online in mid-March.
He added, “And ensuring that payments that were processed and businesses that were recipients of those grants, were who they said they were.”
Dr. Leiman says that every modern business or government agency relies on cybersecurity, and our state has been planning for this for years.
“North Dakota is, by far, the most highly wired state,” he emphasized.
Ford says continuously increasing the state’s cyber efforts has been pricey. But, he says the cost to repair damages and even the cost of a human life, when data is stolen or scrambled at places like hospitals, is much steeper.
Ford says these days, it’s the government’s responsibility to protect our data.
It comes down to the fact that the state requires us to provide them with a lot of personal information, so the government, in turn, has an ethical responsibility to protect it as much as possible.