MARQUETTE — Professionals involved in the ever-growing field of cybersecurity gathered on Tuesday through Thursday at the first Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Symposium at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University.
Leading off Thursday’s “fireside chat” session was Chris Inglis, national cyber director and adviser to President Joe Biden on cybersecurity.
“Massive technology,” as he called it, continues to “befuddle” people.
However, progress is being made.
“There are many things that we should be quite pleased about,” Inglis said. “Going into the pandemic, when we all retreated to our homes and various sanctuaries, the internet stood in, and it worked for us. We were able to do things.”
As an example, he mentioned the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in record time.
“We had the connectivity of scientists and data sets and the analytics that were on top of it,” Inglis said. “That is the miracle of the modern age, the miracle of the internet,” Inglis said.
“Cyber,” he noted, doesn’t exist for its own sake, and people have their reasons for using it.
“They want to do what they want to do as individuals, as businesses, as societies,” Inglis said. “It’s the functions that deliver, so we need to get cyber right, but not validating it in prominence, but supporting it.”
Of course, there will be issues.
“We need to stop obsessing about threats and positive aspirations, mindful of the threats,” Inglis said.
Additionally, he said that people need to solve not just technical issues but human skills as well.
He said that includes people with jobs in the cyber and information technology world and knowledge of how to execute those responsibilities in a world of digital infrastructure.
“It’ll never be a completely safe and self-defending space,” said Inglis, who pointed out a specific element of risk in areas such as road and transportation systems. “But they need to be well-informed risks, and they need to be risks that are governed by those things that we’ve earned in other systems and interests.”
UPCI, which began in 2019, is the only facility of its kind in the U.P. and one of six statewide. It offers non-degree and industry credentials relevant to cybersecurity careers and augments NMU’s existing cyber defence bachelor’s degree. UPCI provides career exploration and training opportunities with U.P. K-12 school districts and postsecondary institutions.
UPCI Director Doug Miller said the symposium was about bringing together local, state and federal resources that can help increase “cyber hygiene” for the U.P., whether it’s for a small business, nonprofit, school or hospital.
He said it was also about connecting the people responsible for keeping them safe and operating — ensuring they know available resources — and preparing them to defend against potential threats and attacks.
“We went through several workshops that helped them come up with an instant response plan,” Miller said, “and then we did a couple of tabletop exercises that they got to walk through some of that, and to think through it to help get them prepared and know what to do when something bad happens.”
Miller acknowledged that symposium organizers had wondered if they could attract even 20 attendees, but then 120 people showed up.
“You can see the need and the interest and the desire from everyone up here in the U.P. is there, and so it was fantastic to be able to bring the resources together,” Miller said.
He credited the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for providing the funding for the event, which was free to the participants.
Miller said he hopes another symposium can take place in 2023.
“Now that we’ve had this first success, I think we’ll have even better luck next year,” Miller said.
He said that making connections and learning about resources were the main themes for the symposium, but he called for proactivity.
“The time to try and figure out who you should call and what you should do when your business has just been a victim of a ransomware attack is not after that event,” Miller said. “It’s before that event.”
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is [email protected]