Tampa Bay hackers hone their skills, urge the public to change their computer passwords

TAMPA – Bill Davison has always had a passion for his career. But outside of his domain, few others understood what he was doing.

“Now I say I’m in cybersecurity and their faces light up with interest. They ask about networks and state attacks … I’m not used to it,” he said. he declares.

It is now common to talk about private mail servers and ransomware at the table. The US information security consulting industry is valued at around $ 9 billion and is expected to grow by about 14% over the next decade, according to research firm IBISWorld. Several data security companies have established themselves in the Tampa Bay area in recent years, where they can find qualified employees and potential customers through MacDill Air Force Base.

On Saturday, the Tampa Bay chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) held a hacker contest. About 50 data security experts and enthusiasts who typically work to guard against cyber breaches spent the day in a simulation that involved breaking into a fake private Hillary Clinton email server from access a fake Donald Trump chat room and about 20 other challenges.

“Like a locksmith, you need to know how to pick locks,” said Joe Partlow, information security manager for the event’s sponsor, ReliaQuest, based in Tampa. These and similar events are held regularly across the country to encourage networking and professional growth in the cybersecurity industry. Partlow said the election-inspired theme was a fun twist on the daily challenges within the profession. Event organizers also released aloud YouTube videos of Trump sniffing and Clinton laughing to distract hackers from their tasks.

Most of the attendees on Saturday were data security professionals who spend their days protecting businesses from hackers trying to steal their information. Some are white hats or ethical hackers, who are hired to test company security systems by trying to break into their systems and report system weaknesses before a breach occurs.

One of these hackers is Dave Switzer, 38. He said the biggest thing businesses and people can do to protect their information is to keep their passwords secure. He recalled being able to break into a customer’s email just by finding out that the customer’s password was their mailing address, which is public information. Rather than using a pet or school name, zip code or the initials of a loved one, which are easy to understand by looking at someone’s Facebook page, him and other experts recommend using three random chained words as a password.

“Anything on the Internet can be searched,” Switzer said.

It is important, he said, to change the password every 90 days and not to use the password for other accounts. Thus, if a hacker accesses your email, they will not be able to break into your bank account as well. Davison, 31, who works for a cloud services company in Tampa, recommends consumers look to password encryption tools like LastPass to keep track of everything.

Beyond the challenges inspired by the election, hackers at Saturday’s event had to find a way to find a hidden document disguised in the code of an image, locate the contact details of a fake Wi-Fi account in a bar in downtown Tampa, and even access a fake bank account.

“It’s scary, but it’s cool,” Switzer said.

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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