Next generation of students, small businesses practice Cybersecurity

MARQUETTE — When private individuals and small business owners are told to defend themselves against crime at home and their place of work, they think of security cameras, mace, and alarm systems. However, new means of attacks have been made possible in the digital age we all live in.

Cybersecurity is a topic that may be new and somewhat confusing for many. Today, it’s something that should be commonplace in the workplace and at home. Representing the State of Michigan, Senator Gary Peters has been working on passing bills to protect cyber professionals as a member of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus.

“I know from a national security perspective that perhaps the biggest threat we face are cyber threats,” said U.S. Senator, Gary Peters. “Cybersecurity needs to be on everyone’s minds, whether it’s state actors engaged in cyberattacks on cyber infrastructure here in the United States, or folks trying to steal money and identities – we all have to be incredibly vigilant.”

Specifically, Peters’ bill will create cybersecurity assistance units at Small Business Development Centers throughout the country, which provide consulting and training services to help businesses start and grow, and stay protected online. There are 11 regional SBDC offices, including one at Michigan Tech in Houghton.

“What I’ve found is that if you’re a large business, you can afford fairly elaborate cyber protections, but if you’re a small business it’s simply difficult to do, and what we find is that the bad guys often go for the path of least resistance – that tends to be smaller organizations,” warned Peters. “That’s why I’ve been working on legislation to provide more resources to our small business owners.”

With the increase of concern in recent years, colleges across the nation, and even locally are taking action, and creating new cyberdefense programs that ensure that the next generation of students is well prepared to face these new challenges. In the last few years, Northern Michigan University has rolled out their new cyberdefense program within the college of business.

“We started the program here a few years ago, and we are growing,” said Professor of Cyber Defense at NMU, Dr. Jim Marquardson. “It’s a program within the college of business, which is kind of unique for cybersecurity programs – we combine a business education with technology. We’re teaching students here to speak the language of business, but also teaching people how to speak the language of technology.”

While working in a program mixing business and defense, Marquardson stresses how important it is to be protected as a small business owner.

“Especially small businesses, if they’re not sure how to secure their data, they need to talk to somebody who can help them,” continued Marquardson. “One big data breach can just ruin a small business – if all that data gets lost, you can lose your customers, and you can be in big trouble. A lot of people can’t survive with that kind of thing, so talk to a professional.”

But what about private individuals? There are many basic things you can do at home to practice safer usage online, like using separate passwords for different accounts, backing up your data, and always being skeptical, especially when something that seems out of the ordinary could be a phishing scam.

The program at NMU has recently been working with local high schools to pass on that knowledge to younger minds – and it’s been paying off.

“Recently, three high schools in the UP made it to round two of the governor’s high school cyber challenge,” added Marquardson. “Three out of the ten schools in the State of Michigan that made it to round two were from the UP – we’re pretty happy about that.”