Meet the man in charge of protecting S.C. from a cyber attack

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 9:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A top South Carolina cybersecurity official says the state’s intelligence and information sharing program is “one of the most robust” in the country.

The Director of the South Carolina Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Program (SC CIC), said the group that became operational in 2019 has kept the state safe and saved millions.

“We are operating on about an $850,000 dollar budget, but by my rough estimates we have saved the taxpayers anywhere between $15 and $20 million dollars,” said Director Bruce Smalley. " Those incident response costs can add up very quickly in a cyber incident and when you combine cost savings and our free incident response services with those preventable measures that we know we have preventable success with when preventing incidents. That’s how we get those estimates.”

Efforts to form the program began under Gov. Nikki Haley, but Governor McMaster signed the executive order formally creating it.

Smalley says the goal of SC CIC is to help protect critical infrastructure in South Carolina from cyber attacks. The group defines critical infrastructure as fields like energy, transportation, chemical, ports and government.

SC CIC provides the state with cyber monitoring services, incident response, and resources to keep it safe from online threats. Smalley says because of his group’s efforts they are able to quickly make different groups around the state aware if they are at risk or respond to an attack.

The director says local governments like city and county offices are most at risk of being hacked.

“While there are some attacks that are directly targeted against critical infrastructure, a lot of attacks are essentially drive-by that is related to phishing that is delivered to millions of email boxes, and while they were not a target, they were a victim of a phishing attack,” said Smalley.

He also explained that the most common method of attack is ransomware. Ransomware is when a bad actor blocks a user from accessing their own data and demands payment in return for releasing it.

“It’s all about the money. This is truly a monetary adventure for the adversarial partners or elements that are propagating these attacks,” he said.

Smalley said to stay prepared, they train for “multidimensional cyber attacks.” He said his team has trained for scenarios where the energy grid goes out at the same time that necessary transportation equipment is offline and first responders systems are compromised.

“Nobody is perfect. We will improve. We need to improve. We strive to help protect the citizens of South Carolina,” Smalley said.

However, Smalley did note that while the public may be more aware of cyber threats right now following the ransomware attack on the colonial pipeline, that doesn’t mean they are happening more frequently.

“Ransomware attacks have gone down,” he said, ‘They have just been publicized a lot more.”

In addition to trying to encourage people to utilize the training offered by the SC CIC program, he wants to make sure everyone has all their data backed up and they don’t click on any suspicious links or open strange emails.

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