Cybersecurity: countering a clear and present danger

By Posted on Oct 24 2018 | By

Warrenton resident leading collaborative effort to protect small businesses

The nightmare is all too real. A small business powers up its computer and prepares for a day of commercial gain. But something is amiss. The computer is operating but access to critical files appear to be frozen.

Then the dreaded email arrives. Pay now or lose all your data.

Another victim held for ransom.

The world of hacking is an omnipresent danger in our modern digital world. From the loss of personal information to threats against national security, there is seemingly no limit to the destructive force of those intent on causing harm.

But the danger to small firms is particularly pernicious. Who does one turn to to pursue the bad boys if the attack is launched against a company with limited resources?

A 21st Century Jesse James, without horse and gun, has you standing next to your computer with your hands held high in the air. The solution? Pay the requested $5,000 or more in Bitcoin and move on.

“Ransomware is one of the biggest threats to small businesses. Someone can totally freeze your computer by encrypting the data and forcing you to pay a ransom for the keys to get it back,” said Charlie Tupitza, CEO of the National Forum for Public Private Collaboration.

But why not call the cops? Because the local police and the county and have no jurisdiction. Call the FBI. About 99 percent of cyber attacks are below the threshold Feds will respond to.

You’re on your own.

Tupitza, 63, and a longtime resident of Warrenton, has spent his career supporting small businesses who do not have the resources to protect themselves.

“Professionally I’m in the middle of the cyber war. And we truly are at war.

“Right now, small businesses are being attacked by organized crime and Nation states because they have a lot of information. And because they are often the gateway to larger businesses,” said Tupitza.

The gold in the hard drives is intellectual property rights, financial holdings information, government contract data and much more. Criminals might attack a number of small firms holding government contracts to aggregate the data for illegal purposes.

Moreover, such attacks may not result in a demand for ransom because the hackers are after bigger fish and simply using several smaller fish to tap into the supply chain of information they are really seeking.

Collaborative effort
Given the challenges facing smaller entrepreneurs, Tupitza realized creating a “circle the wagons” approach could tap into many sources for the benefit of all. Among many of his cyber activities, he sponsors conferences where there were no main speakers. Rather, representatives from both small and large firms gathered to share ideas for the commonweal.

“We don’t want to delve into a specific company’s business. We want to keep the conversation at a common level and share good practices among all the participants.

“Picture 64 people in a room divided into tables of eight. Each participant has one minute to state why he or she is there and what they expect to get out of the meeting. We want everyone to come down from the cyber summit into the fertile valley of collaboration,” said Tupitza.

The result generates numerous ideas and recommendations for combating digital threats.

While there are insurance firms offering policy protection from attack, Tupitza highlights how such apparent help can be destructive.

“Some firms ask you to complete a detailed survey of 60 to 65 questions about your system. It may take two weeks to compile. And you may have very little knowledge about what you’re actually answering.

“If your agent asks more than five or six questions about your system, don’t answer them. You may make yourself even more vulnerable to attack.”

Tupitza also meets regularly with a host of Federal agencies to help them align messaging coming from the Federal government to small businesses.

“Cyber is confusing enough. Companies hearing from government agencies, lawyers, accountants, consultants, product providers and others make it very confusing to figure what should be done.”

As a licensed insurance consultant and president of RightExposure Tupitza also seeks to align insurance industry messaging with both Federal standards and product and service providers to make the subject matter easier to understand.

What to do
There a number of actions firms need to take to help protect themselves:

*Back up all data on a weekly basis; preferably on a recognized Cloud source.

*Maintain a strong firewall on your network with up-to-date patches.

*Create strong passwords with at least nine characters containing a capital letter, special characters (such as # ! % *) and a number.

*Scan your computer for viruses, spyware and other vulnerabilities on a routine basis.

*Visit only websites you trust, open only emails from known contacts.

For more information on the broader scope of his organization visit Tupitza at both: https://nfppc.org/ and http://rightexposure.com/

Renaissance Man
While cybersecurity is clearly a passion for Charlie Tupitza, it is not his end all.

“I am very energized and I don’t see myself slowing down on the subject of cyber security. There is so much need for small businesses to have help and it’s so much fun to contribute.

But, I also believe sitting kills.”

It’s obvious his life does not begin and end in the digital world when you consider the complete man.

He is a resident of Warrenton. Both of his children are graduates of Fauquier High School.

Let’s take a deep breath and see how Mr. T spends his off hours:

Coached youth soccer in Warrenton for four years and six years in Reston; hosts a weekly Christian men’s breakfast group; active member of Hope Christian Fellowship in Vint Hill; member of the Samaritans Pursue Program helping people in need after natural disasters; hikes, bikes and plays disc golf; member of the U.S. Masters Swimming National Championship Committee; founded the Warrenton Masters swim team.

And yes, still works full-time.

“Most importantly, however, is my faith in God, love of family, helping others and supporting small businesses. I am blessed with good health and good friends.”

Indeed, Tupitza embodies what makes Fauquier County a valued place to live and work.


Published in the October 24, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.


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