Iowa State cybersecurity professor says companies need to prepare for possible online attacks

Iowa News

AMES, Iowa (WHO) — When Iowa State University started offering courses on cybersecurity in 1995, it was hard to find examples of online security breaches in the real world.

Now, professor Doug Jacobson believes it can be hard to keep up with the amount of online attacks happening this year.

“They’re organized crime,” said Jacobson, who leads Iowa State’s cybersecurity engineering program. “A lot of these are crimes of opportunity. They work to keep one step ahead of us.”

The most high-profile examples are the online attack on gas provider Colonial Pipeline in April, and a similar incident that affected meatpacker JBS earlier in the week.

Des Moines Area Community College also temporarily shut down on Friday after a cybersecurity issue.

Jacobson said the online attacks will continue to be a threat for the foreseeable future. He said companies’ reliance on online data combined with the popularity of untraceable cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin makes it easy for cybercriminals to attack and hold companies for ransom.

“If somebody gets in your organization, they have access to every computer and resource,” Jacobson said. “With cryptocurrency, you deposit directly into somebody’s wallet, and their wallets are identified by a number that has no tie back to them.”

Jacobson said companies should keep offline backups of their most important files and install obstacles such as firewalls to slow hackers down. He believes it is time for companies to treat cybersecurity as seriously as armed security.

“In most office complexes, we have locked offices and locked rooms to restrict people,” Jacobson said. “A lot of times in the cyber world, we don’t do that.”

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