Some of America’s largest institutions – even the federal government – have been the victim of damaging cybersecurity attacks. And they have the resources to protect themselves.
Small businesses and nonprofit organizations often don’t. They will be the focus of the inaugural Central Illinois Cybersecurity Summit happening June 22 at Illinois State University. It’s the first major event hosted by the Bloomington-Normal Innovation Alliance (BNIA).
“The small to medium-sized businesses don’t have their own dedicated security staff,” said Charles Edamala, ISU’s chief information officer and a BNIA leader. “So at a place like ISU, we have a chief information security officer who makes sure there are all sorts of training, like phishing training. We make sure we put in things like multifactor authentication as soon as that becomes available. While the small to medium-sized businesses probably don’t have that kind of support.”
The Cybersecurity Summit will bring in speakers from all over the country. Attendees can learn how to use “affordable and effective” cybersecurity solutions tailored for them.
“It’s going to be a summit that brings down very technical pieces to the level of business owners who just need to know what to do next and how to protect themselves.”
Charles Edamala, ISU’s chief information officer
“Though it’s not a tech event. They’re going to bring it down to the small-business owner’s perspective,” Edamala said. “It’s going to be a summit that brings down very technical pieces to the level of business owners who just need to know what to do next and how to protect themselves.”
One of the topics will be cybersecurity insurance, which will have a dedicated workshop track. Organizations of all sizes have been challenged by the rising cost of cyber insurance, as well as the probing questionnaires from prospective insurers about their current cybersecurity practices – where a wrong answer can mean they won’t insure you.
“The reality today is that if you’ve got enough data – names, addresses – the cost of doing business now has to include cybersecurity insurance. There just isn’t any way out. How much do you pay? Is it affordable? Is it worth taking the risk not to pay that? That’s the reason we have this summit, to talk about things like that,” Edamala said.
At the end of the event, attendees will receive comprehensive resource materials to support their ongoing cybersecurity efforts. These resources will include practical guides, checklists, and recommended tools to strengthen your organization’s defenses against cyber threats.
Bloomington-Normal Innovation Alliance debut
The Cybersecurity Summit is the most visible effort yet by the new Bloomington-Normal Innovation Alliance. It spawned out of informal conversations – usually on Tuesdays while munching tacos – arranged in part by Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIRBN) executive director Mark DeKeersgieter with Edamala, Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy, and then-Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy. McCarthy and Mathy are both small-business owners themselves.
They’d talk about the possibilities of greater cross-community tech collaboration, especially in a town with so much white-collar expertise.
“It’s really this notion that 1 plus 1 can equal 4 here,” said McCarthy. “And leveraging all the smart research and capability and capacity that Illinois State University has in computing and tech and security and the like, and some of the personnel and resources that the communities have – including the county, including Illinois Wesleyan and Heartland Community College – and how do we start to bring minds together to do something like this. It’s a way for us to get on the board to start to leverage relationships and capacity to bring it together to benefit the greater whole.”
BNIA members now include the Town of Normal, City of Bloomington, McLean County, McLean County Regional Planning Board, CIRBN, McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, Unit 5, Unit 87, Illinois Wesleyan University, Heartland Community College, and ISU.
Cybersecurity was “low-hanging fruit” for an initial event’s focus, McCarthy said. BNIA’s next steps are still to be decided. There’s been some interest in helping local social service agencies, which have limited resources and are historically “under IT’d,” McCarthy said. There’s also interest in tackling digital-divide issues that spilled into public view during the pandemic.
“We don’t have a project to bring to the public yet. We don’t have solutions to bring to the public yet,” McCarthy said. “We know that the power of bringing all the resources together is going to be good and important.”
Registration for the Cybersecurity Summit is now open.
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