Nevada is one of 10 states with the highest number of cybersecurity victims, according to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report. Beyond the state, cybersecurity — or the measures taken to protect a computer or computer system from unauthorized access or attack — is a crucial issue for the nation and the world.
“We are faced with a constant barrage of cybersecurity attacks daily,” Shannon Wilkinson, CEO of Tego Cyber Inc. and one of the keynote speakers at the UNR Cybersecurity Conference Oct. 10, said. “But there is hope, and it’s all about the people.”
About 180 students, academics, industry leaders and government officials came together for the conference, organized by the UNR Cybersecurity Center and held at the Joe Crowley Student Union, to discuss how to protect data and the computer systems upon which so much of modern life depends.
The event also included a “Capture the Flag” game organized by College of Engineering’s Nevada Cyber Club, in which participants were given cybersecurity scenarios and problems to solve; an industry showcase; a student demo and poster competition; and an evening social. U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen delivered a videotaped message in which she stressed the crucial role cybersecurity plays in society.
‘Cybersecurity for Everyone’
“To tackle the growing challenges in cybersecurity, a collaborative and synergistic attempt is absolutely critical among industry, academia and government sector,” Professor Shamik Sengupta, conference organizer and executive director of the UNR Cybersecurity Center, said.
This year’s conference had as its theme “Cybersecurity for everyone,” a message reiterated by College of Engineering Dean Erick Jones in his welcome address.
“It will take all of us, people from different academic disciplines, from different industries and different government agencies, to address the cybersecurity challenges ahead,” Jones said. “Cybersecurity is not just for computer experts. Cybersecurity is for everyone.”
Jones commended the Cybersecurity Center’s commitment to developing holistic solutions to cybersecurity challenges. He noted that the Center’s work corresponds to two of the College’s key positions: its commitment to equitable community infrastructure, and its stake in cyber-protected information and communication technology.
Who’s vulnerable and how to protect yourself
Critical industries facing cybersecurity attacks, according to keynote speaker Wilkinson, include schools and universities; hospitals and health care organizations; and critical infrastructure systems, such as energy suppliers. She referenced the 2021 hack of Colonial Pipeline Co., which took down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. and led to shortages across the East Coast.
“These attacks have affected the lives of ordinary citizens,” Wilkinson said.
She added that current tricks bad actors use include:
- business email compromise, or when a person poses as a CEO or vendor to get employees to transfer funds;
- multi-factor authentication (MFA) request fatigue, or when attackers overwhelm an employee with constant MFA requests, hoping they will accept one, which will enable the attacker to gain entry to an account;
- supply chain attacks, in which hackers slip a malicious code or component into a trusted software or hardware;
- and ransomware, or blocking access to a computer system until a ransom is paid.
Addressing those threats is challenging, particularly because of the cyber-skills gap: the national shortfall of cybersecurity employees. Wilkinson mentioned the cyber-skills gap as one of the issues of the future: she referenced the approximately 700,000 cybersecurity positions currently open in the United States, a number cited in the July 2022 Announcement of the White House National Cyber Workforce and Education Summit.
The UNR Cybersecurity Center is responding to the cyber-skills gap with events such as the conference, which seeks to build partnerships between academia, government and industry to develop cybersecurity solutions, and also by offering the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Program, which offers full tuition for government service after graduation. Earlier this year, the Cybersecurity Center secured a five-year, $3.3 million National Science Foundation grant to award the scholarships.
But cybersecurity is something in which everyone can take part, and Wilkinson closed her address by referring to the “4 Things You Can Do” presented by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, which leads the national effort to understand, manage and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure:
- Think before you click — recognize and report phishing (the practice of tricking Internet users to reveal personal or confidential information)
- Update your software
- Use strong passwords
- Enable multi-factor authentication