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New group seeks to raise awareness of cybersecurity at top levels

By LISA MONTI

A new coalition of top Mississippi public and private sector leaders wants to raise awareness of cybersecurity implications, issues and the growing threats to businesses and government agencies as well as economic opportunities.

The Department of Information Technology Services hosted the Mississippi Executive Alliance for Cybersecurity (MEAC) held its first quarterly meeting recently in Jackson.

Craig Oregon, ITS executive director, said the formation of the group is timely and relevant, given that cybersecurity is an increasing global problem with local consequences. “Leaders at all levels must strive to become strategically conversant when it comes to the role of technology,” he said.

MEAC founder John Schroder, CEO and managing partner of Juvo Technologies in Hattiesburg, said that it’s not unusual for CEOs to defer security issues to their IT staff. But in light of a growing number of data breaches and other cyberattacks making headlines, he said, cybersecurity should not be an afterthought.

“I’ve come to the realization that this is not necessarily a technical issue and is not outside the purview of the executive team,” he said. “They should really be dialed into it.”

MEAC, which currently has about 17 members, is unique among other groups, he said.

“There are plenty of cybersecurity associations nationally and internationally but what they usually are directed at are the IT professionals at the practitioner level,” he said. “This alliance is bringing executives into that conversation.”

Schroder said since the initial meeting, members are working to form a board of directors and having been already been formed as a non-profit here in the state, the alliance is pursuing that same tax status with the IRS.

Cybersecurity covers a broad spectrum and can take many forms, he said. “Members are beginning to discuss among themselves what sort of threats they’re dealing with and what we’re doing to mitigate those events,” he said.

That is expected to help members more effectively purchase cybersecurity insurance, a relatively new but growing product currently designed to help mitigate the financial damage following a cyber related incident or breach.  The alliance sees great benefit to members and to insurance providers alike if they can all agree on certain standards and protocols.  For example, if a company can show an insurer that it is using best practices to fight malware and other threats, that should help to make them more insurable, he said.

Schroder said MEAC also provides a major economic opportunity for the state by steering students to study cybersecurity.

“Globally, we will be short 1.5 million cybersecurity specialists by 2019. We need to make sure we get the word out that these are great paying jobs,” he said. “An entry level security analyst makes about $73,000 these days. If we can encourage high school students into this field, we believe this can be a real economic engine for Mississippi. It’s a great opportunity and is part of the conversation we want to be driving.”

State Rep. Scott DeLano, chairman of the House Technology Committee, said, “Cybersecurity is a concern at every level, including state government. Mississippi has an opportunity to show the rest of the country how to effectively deal with the challenge of cybersecurity in a way that fosters economic growth and tech innovation.”

For more information about the MEAC, contact: Schroder at (601) 329-2128 or email jschroder@meac501c3.org

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