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Security Awareness Day attracts national speakers to educate public about online safety

Oct. 17, 2013

Online security will be the topic of the day on Oct. 30 at CCRI, as the college hosts its first-ever Security Awareness Day, open to the public. Online security will be the topic of the day on Oct. 30 at CCRI, as the college hosts its first-ever Security Awareness Day, open to the public.

We live in a time where it’s easier to be connected than ever before: From smartphones to social media, we all seem to be constantly plugged in. But with that convenience comes cost, said Bruce Barrett, director of networking and telecommunications for the Community College of Rhode Island.

As such, he said, it’s part of the aim of the college’s first-ever Security Awareness Day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Knight Campus in Warwick to educate users of technology at all levels about the risks associated with living our lives online, as well as what can be done to mitigate those risks.

“We really want to build a culture of security awareness,” said Barrett, who organized the event to coincide with National Security Awareness Month. “We want to focus on people’s behavior, rather than on the technical aspect, and educate them on how to be on the lookout for unauthorized access or attacks – on their networks, on their machines and on their identity.”

To that end, Barrett and Chief Information Officer Stephen Vieira worked to bring in a variety of speakers, targeting the event to a wider audience than just IT professionals. Anyone who uses technology, be it in their professional or personal lives, is encouraged to attend, and the event is open to the public. Registration is now open, and although the event is free, seating will be limited, so Barrett encouraged those who were interested to register online as soon as possible. The event has already attracted more than 230 participants and is sponsored in part by SOPHOS, the security software vendor.

Morning sessions most likely will appeal to the general audience, said Barrett, who noted that the presenters on hand will be speaking about such hot-button issues as privacy, social media, vulnerabilities in networks and national best practices. Rebecca Herold, CEO of the Privacy Professor, will present about what she calls “the creepy line” – meaning the thin line that separates privacy and security issues in today’s age of targeted advertising and big data.

Scott G. Brown of the Boston FBI field office, who is involved in the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings, will give what Barrett predicted would be a “shocking” talk about how easy it is for “bad guys” to access your identity and information from seemingly innocuous social media posts, such as a beach day snapshot uploaded to Facebook. “People have no idea what can happen with what they put out there,” warned Barrett.

After listening to Henry Marquez talk about some of his experience “exposing vulnerabilities” in organization networks and a complimentary lunch (available to full-day attendees only), participants can enjoy the results of a national survey given by John Pescatore of the SANS Institute, a national outfit that advises on proven practices in security.

The afternoon will split into breakout sessions that will appeal to the different niche audiences Barrett expects to have on hand, such as financial officers, controller professionals and more. At the end of the day, professional development credits will be available for attendees who qualify.

Barrett said the prospect of bringing nationally renowned speakers to CCRI to discuss these prevailing issues was exciting, and “a big day for CCRI.” As a networking and telecommunications professional, Barrett said that he had seen, through the various organizations he belongs to in the region and nationwide, that many of the security and privacy issues were falling to the people who occupied his sphere seemingly by default. Now, as attacks such as phishing and malware have gotten more sophisticated and professionalized – no longer the domain of pimply teenaged hackers looking to cause some trouble but to a seedy underbelly with the force and funds to ruin lives – security awareness has moved to the fore for everyone. Barrett is trying to develop an in-house security program for the college, and so is constantly trying to bring together and learn from the top minds in the field. To bring it home to CCRI is an added bonus, he said.

“I think it’s a public service that we’re providing to the people here. This is the first event of its type in Rhode Island,” he said, noting that Bryant University used to put on an excellent Security Day targeted toward security technology rather than general public awareness. “And CCRI’s role in the state is to try and help educate the public.”

Barrett hopes that Security Day will become an annual event if its inaugural year is successful, and plans to hold smaller events throughout the year in conjunction with national contests such as those put on by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit that works to advance what it calls “intelligent use of information technology” in higher education. Such contests offer students an opportunity to win significant scholarship money, as well as educating their peers and professors on IT safety and security.

“What we hope is that everybody will think about security first before they do anything, and let us know if they see something that looks strange. Let us know. We’re interested,” said Barrett.


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