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CHAMPION — The threat of a cybersecurity attack on businesses and public infrastructure is “pretty serious,” said the director of a federal agency that provides assistance against those attacks.

“Not only do we see state-sponsored actors like China, Iran, Russia and North Korea, but what we’ve seen over the last few years is a scourge of ransomware,” said Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “Ransomware has impacted in particular what we call target-rich, resource-poor entities.”

That would be entities sich as rural hospitals, public school systems and water facilities, Easterly said.

“Many of these don’t have the resources to be able to defend themselves effectively so ransomware actors are going after them,” she said. “We want to provide our free services and assessments to ensure these businesses, large and small, have the resources and the capabilities to defend themselves.”

Ransomware is a malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

Easterly and U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security, spoke Wednesday to about 20 business officials and owners about the agency at Kent State University Trumbull.

Since the start of the year, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has found 46 cases of preransomware in Ohio, Easterly said.

“We want to get out to potential victims to help them avoid their worst day,” she said. “We’ve been doing that effectively in Ohio. We prevented a critical infrastructure owner from a potential ransom of $350 million.”

CISA is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is the operational lead for federal security and the national coordination for critical infrastructure security. It collaborates with states and entities to protect against domestic and foreign computer hackers.

The agency was created in 2018 and Easterly has been director since July 2021.

“Cybersecurity is both a homeland security and defense issue because foreign actors take out your water supply or take out your sewage system and it creates issues and really it causes chaos in society,” said Joyce, R-Bainbridge, whose congressional district includes Trumbull County.

Joyce added that with all of the business start-ups in the area, those companies need to “know these resources exist,” and “it’s important that we continue to show there are options out there. Be preventive, but God forbid it does occur, there are people to help you.”

Joyce said: “Increased vigilance with our cyber infrastructure is important for our national and economic security and public trust.”

The U.S. House’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which Joyce chairs, provides funding for CISA and works closely with the agency.

Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown / Warren Chamber and an attendee at the event, said: “It’s eye-opening to see our businesses are more at risk than I even thought, but also there’s a very valuable resource in CISA. Our next move is to provide information to our members and to keep educating small businesses and local governments about the risk and how to protect themselves.”

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