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How to Reduce Cyber Risks

by Ella Hamer, TAB Intern

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is imperative that organizations of all sizes are well-prepared to prevent, report, and recover from cyberattacks. This week, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) partnered with TAB to train members on how to adopt a heightened posture when it comes to cybersecurity.

Massey Villarreal, Chair-Elect of TAB (and President and CEO of Precision Task Group) opened the event. He warned attendees that, having a background in computer science, little scared him more than the threat of cyber-intrusion. Russian cyber-attacks may be another front of war, and American businesses need to be well-prepared to protect themselves and the nation. Ernesto Ballesteros, CISA’s Cybersecurity State Coordinator in Texas, expanded upon this point emphasizing, the role that organizations have in protecting the nation’s security. Likening cybersecurity to supply chains, he explained that attacks have cascading impacts and unforeseeable consequences. Therefore, organizations must take reasonable measures using available resources to protect themselves.

Fortunately, CISA offers free cybersecurity resources at both regional and national levels. 

Weeks before Russia’s invasion, CISA launched “Shields Up,” a guide to protecting against and reducing potential damage from cyberattacks. Ballesteros guided attendees through this program’s key recommendations. 

To reduce the likelihood of cyber-intrusion, CISA urges organizations to minimize attack surface by “system hardening.” In other words, organizations should remove unnecessary parts of their systems that could be hacked, running the system as minimally as possible. Updating software is critical; vulnerabilities in outdated software can allow hackers to create back doors into the system. Additionally, one must monitor and protect the network in order to immediately notice intrusions and act fast with an incident response plan. A designated team should lead this plan. The CISA Ransomware Guide as well as the Federal Government Cybersecurity Incident & Vulnerability Response Playbooks offer guides for developing, practicing, and implementing such a plan. To further minimize damage in the event of a cyberattack, CISA recommends developing operational resilience through backups and redundancy. Backing up critical data, software, and images so that they are stored offline and encrypted as well as testing the efficacy of the backup allow an organization to run safely as quickly as possible after an attack. Finally, organizations should lower their thresholds for suspicious activity, reporting such behavior as soon as it is noticed.

After Ballesteros’s thorough presentation, President and CEO of the Texas Bankers Association Chris Furlow deemed the event an example of Texas businesses working together for collective defense. Previously a risk manager consultant for Homeland Security (HLS), Furlow’s goal is to protect public and private sector assets. Furlow presented the nonbank Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool which helps businesses ask the right questions about handling their data, technology, and employees.

In his time at HLS, Furlow frequently worked with businesses who wanted to be resilient in the face of a cyberattack but did not know where to start. Thanks to CISA’s programs and HSL’s nonbank Ransomware Self-Assessment Tool, businesses have the support they need to be secure. With the threat of a Russian cyberattack, this was a timely workshop.

Thank you to Scott Smith from TAB, Massey Villarreal from Precision Task Group, Ernesto Ballesteros from CISA, and Chris Furlow from the Texas Bankers Association for leading the event.


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