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ECC Receives State Cybersecurity Grant

According to Brad Hill, chief information officer and director of computer services at Edgecombe Community College, a recent $50,000 state grant will enable the college to upgrade its cybersecurity system.

While the world continues to navigate the post-pandemic workplace, cybercriminals have taken advantage of the growing trend of remote working and learning.

Edgecombe Community College is trying to stay ahead of would-be hackers. Thanks to a $50,000 state grant, the college is upgrading its cybersecurity system with a server that focuses on identifying potential security breaches before they occur. And if a hacker does succeed, the new system can discover those activities and generate alerts so that immediate action may be taken.

“We’ve all heard a lot of reports about colleges and businesses that have been targeted with ransomware,” says Brad Hill, chief information officer and director of computer services at ECC. “They’re looking for personal data, and we’re always doing our best to make sure all of our data is secure.”

Called an appliance in the computer world, the Security Onion Solutions system is expected to strengthen cybersecurity at the college, Hill says. The three-year grant was awarded recently by the N.C. Department of Public Safety through the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program.

Hill calls the system a major step forward in protecting the college’s data and assets from outside attacks.

“It is designed to analyze network traffic and system logs in real-time to detect anomalies, malware, and potential attacks across our infrastructure, and it will strengthen ECC’s ability to identify and respond to cyber threats,” Hill says.

The new system will consume all of the data from the college’s servers and store it in one central location so the data can be analyzed quickly in case of a cyberattack, “so we can easily figure out what happened, who did it, and how to fix it,” he explains. “The system also has a proactive measure to it, as well as a post-event toolkit.”

Hill says the main focus is to prevent cyberattacks. The Security Onion Solutions appliance features a powerful intrusion detection system that is designed to notify the college in real time that a threat exists.

Third party software often is vulnerable to attacks, despite constant “patching,” Hill says. Programs that store Human Resources records, students’ personal information, or even simple PDF viewer apps can have holes for hackers to exploit.

Cybercriminals often know about vulnerabilities even before an institution’s IT staff does, according to Hill. But the Security Onion Solutions appliance will constantly update itself in an effort to keep hackers at bay.

“An attacker will exploit any weakness it can find,” Hill explains. “But with the appliance, we can use the tools to find vulnerabilities and correct them before the hacker gains entrance. If they do get in, the appliance will notify us that an incident has taken place.”

The appliance can then provide forensic analysis and help the college conduct a detailed investigation and implement appropriate measures. This feature is expected to help Edgecombe Community College reduce impacts from the attack and return to normal operations more quickly.

ECC’s Network Administrator Anthony Lovitt participated in an N.C. National Guard cybersecurity exercise dubbed Operation Tobacco Road. The exercise showed participants what a real-world cyberattack looks like. Lovitt received hands-on experience with the Security Onion Solution’s appliance and will be helping with the set-up and implementation at ECC.

“I’m excited by what this will enable us to accomplish in further securing our systems and strengthening our resiliency against cyberattacks,” Hill adds.