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Cyber threats abound as Springfield awaits center to fight them

October 27, 2020
In The News

SPRINGFIELD — Cybercriminals have latched onto confusion surrounding COVID-19 in their efforts to gain access to secure computer systems.

“They might say, ‘You have a signed check waiting,’” Stephanie Helm, director of the MassCyberCenter, said on a call with local officials Monday. “Or they might say, ‘COVID vaccines are available.’ Anything to get your attention.”

Cybercriminals are also infiltrating Zoom software and other remote conferencing programs.

“It could be for money, as a ransom,” Helm said. “Or it could be just to make sure things don’t work. It might be people who just want to disrupt.”

Monday’s event — coinciding with National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and Massachusetts Cybersecurity Month — served as a preview for CyberPlus New England, a facility at Union Station operated in conjunction with Bay Path University.

The Springfield Redevelopment Authority, which manages the station, received $1 million for CyberPlus from the state’s IT Bond Bill passed this summer. State Rep. Angelo J. Puppolo Jr., D-Springfield, sponsored the measure on the city’s behalf.

CyberPlus New England will be a training program with at least two 20-student classrooms and all the modern technology, said Paul Stelzer, president of Appleton Corp., which manages operations at Union Station. Once the money is actually available, the center could be up and running in nine months.

CyberPlus will be on the second floor of the station, in renovated office space. It will be open to educators, employers and others.

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, was on hand to talk about the federal role and to catch up on progress.

He wrote much of the CARES Act in his role as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and noted Monday that it has money to help enhance cybersecurity for state-run unemployment systems.

Training in-demand cybersecurity professionals and making them available to growing companies is a business opportunity, said Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council President and CEO Richard K. Sullivan Jr.

Neal asked about the security concerns surrounding the state’s military bases, including Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

Sullivan said that’s one of the opportunities. Contractors doing business with the Pentagon on those bases need to be certified in computer security. That goes also for manufacturers making parts.

Election Day also presents a challenge, with state actors like Russia, Iran and others already accused of trying to interfere in elections. Neal said it’s a fact accepted by both parties that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election.

Neal, who is unopposed in next Tuesday’s general election, said voters should be assured that early voting by mail is safe and secure. He wishes President Donald Trump would reinforce that fact instead of casting doubt.

“People need to know their elections are secure.” said Neal, a backer of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

But Neal is cautious about computerized voting done in some states.

“You need a paper trail,” he said. “You need to be able to go back and count those ballots.”