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The Scarlet & Black

FBI Agent: Cyber hackers threaten college security


By Jon Sundby

For most of our online-savvy generation, an email from a foreign country asking for a bank account number would immediately end up in the trash bin. But what if the email was sent in your boss’s name and was asking you to send some money through the bank? Or maybe just to open an Excel spreadsheet. Would you click on it?

In our increasingly sophisticated online world, it’s not uncommon for a hacker to use one of the above techniques to gain the trust of a victim. And once inside a network, a hacker with malicious intent could inflict untold monetary and security damage. It’s exactly these types of situations that Grinnell College is trying to avoid. That’s why the College brought in FBI Special Agent Jordan Loyd on Tuesday to talk cybercrime and the threats it poses to institutions of higher education.

Agent Loyd is one of around 500 FBI agents in the nation that deal with cybersecurity and online crime, and the only one in Iowa to focus on these issues. While he now operates locally out of Des Moines, he has previously worked on cases in New York and as far away as Bulgaria. Throughout his career with the Bureau, Loyd has investigated a number of cases, including ones relating to the dark web marketplace Silk Road and the famous hacker “Little Sec.” He even once went undercover and ran the largest online forum for English-speaking hackers in the world.

“We were going to lock up the most egregious online criminals from around the world. We executed operations in 18 countries, we arrested … 32 [hackers]. At the time it hadn’t been done before by the FBI. It was a first. … I was just a crazy guy on a mission to catch a bad guy,” Loyd recalled.

Although Loyd still looks into high profile cases, he is primarily committed to educating businesses and institutions on the basics of cybersecurity so that his caseload doesn’t grow.

Rob Buchwald, Grinnell’s assistant director of information security, had seen Loyd speak previously and thought his presentation might be useful for his fellow colleagues and students.

“It’s national cybersecurity month. So we really hope to develop this program to offer more presentations and opportunities for awareness and training,” Buchwald said.

PrintCybersecurity became a focus for the College after the institution realized their decentralized approach to security left them with several vulnerable areas. Buchwald was hired in part to coordinate these efforts and also to raise awareness of security issues amongst the departments, reducing the likelihood that employees will inadvertently allow cyber criminals into Grinnell’s network.

“With security the mindset has changed, in the sense that people no longer wonder ‘if’ it will happen, they just wonder ‘when.’ … If it is going to happen we would like a minimal amount of damage done,” Buchwald said.

The College’s fears were recently realized when several members of Grinnell’s monetary staff were contacted by a targeted phishing scheme. Buchwald and others believe that these emails were constructed through detailed research.

“Departments that handle money and are able to transfer funds are being targeted at the College. So far the departments have done a good job at recognizing it, understanding that the language being used and what is being asked of them is out of the ordinary,” Buchwald said.

Despite concerns about these attempted attacks, Buchwald explained that the Department of Information Security is doing a lot to help protect Grinnell’s network, especially student data. He emphasized that “more than reasonable” steps are being taken to protect student’s information and that this is the College’s number one priority in terms of cybersecurity.

As technology and hacking techniques develop, Buchwald hopes that he will be able to help Grinnell confront these new challenges. The College has recently approved the hiring of three more assistants to work in the department of Information Security, furthering its dedication to cybersecurity. As Agent Loyd said, “We won’t see cybercrimes going down. Frankly, it’s too easy.”

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