Lowcountry business owners crank up cyber-security
Monitoring bank-account balances wasn’t high on the list of day-to-day operations at H&J Trucking.
There are two cyber-security conferences being held in the Charleston area in coming months.
What: Cyber Security for National Security Conference
When: Sept. 10
Where: Courtyard by Marriott Charleston Historic District, 125 Calhoun St.
What: Cyber Security Conference
When: Oct. 24
Where: Trident Technical College, 7000 Rivers Ave., North Charleston
But things abruptly changed for the Charleston company following last year’s massive data breach at the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
“We may have looked at the accounts a couple times a week, but after that, now it’s every single day,” said H&J Trucking owner Keith Johnson.
Johnson joins many Lowcountry business owners who have added such security measures to lessen the chance of hackers accessing information and financial accounts.
In October, state officials revealed that hackers accessed the records of 3.6 million taxpayers, including 587,000 businesses. The numbers later were increased to 5.7 million taxpayers and 700,000 businesses.
Lowcountry business officials say there have been no reports of the state’s data breach directly affecting local firms, but it’s heightened awareness.
The breach also prompted organizations to help prevent it from occurring again.
South Carolina Research Authority and Homeland Security Outlook are hosting the first southeast regional Cyber Security for National Security Conference on Sept. 10. The event will address cyber infrastructure needs of governments and small to mid-sized companies.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce also will host a conference on cyber-security for Oct. 24.
“The small companies since last year’s attack have become more aware and they still don’t have the resources to address it,” said Pennie Bingham, senior vice president of business advancement at the chamber.
The conference will include presentations by law enforcement and telecommunication officials, Bingham said.
“This has been on the radar for a while, but that (hacking) gave us the momentum to pull more people together to discuss and showcase,” she said.
Bingham said some of the area’s larger corporations are better prepared for cyber-security threats. The goal of the conference is to bring together knowledge about the issue and help some of the area’s smaller firms, which could be at higher risk due to lesser technologies.
To help taxpayers, the state shelled out $12 million for one year of Experian credit monitoring for affected taxpayers.
Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said monitoring isn’t enough.
Knapp said access to Experian monitoring is a “band-aid,” and the state should take measures to ensure data is never hacked again.
The state has said it has taken steps such as encrypting data to lessen the risk of hackers accessing information again. Knapp said the data breach tarnishes the state government’s image, but should not hurt business recruitment.
“That is water under the bridge,” Knapp said, “and there is no danger to a new business unless it happens again.”
State officials agree.
“Commerce has not noticed any impact in the recruitment process related to the data breach issue,” said Amy Love, spokeswoman for the S.C. Commerce Department.
There’s been no data breach at H&J Trucking, Johnson said, and a series of changes are expected to make sure it stays that way.
In addition to daily monitoring of accounts, Johnson changed some of the company’s bank accounts. He also alerted his staff of more than 40 workers about the state’s data breach.
Johnson said the issue has caused the company to be more vigilant.
“Nowadays we keep close contact with our IT, accountants and bank,” he said.
The heightened security is echoed by other local business owners, including Colleen Troy, owner of Touchpoint Communications, a public relations firm in Charleston.
More vigilance isn’t new for Troy, who learned the vulnerability of her business’ information during a phone call in the wee hours of the morning about two years ago.
“My bank called and told me somebody bought six round-trip tickets to Bangladesh,” she said, adding that she later received a new credit card. “These numbers are just floating around there and the bad guys can get them.”
She added some fraud-prevention services and now monitors her accounts daily.
“I had to change my behaviors to make sure nothing like that happens again,” Troy said.
Other businesses are taking a lesser approach. Matt O’Neill, owner of Matt O’Neill Real Estate in Mount Pleasant, signed up for the Experian monitoring program and advised his staff to do the same.
He said it’s been mostly “business as usual” for his firm.
“So far,” he said, “we have been lucky and nothing has happened.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.