Long Island Cyber-Security Pros Fight Growing Threat of Hackers

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Cyber security pros are combating the ever-growing hacker threat. (Getty Images)

The secretary at a Long Island bank was pleased with what she had just done. 

She had received what she thought was an email from her boss, asking that she transfer $28,000 to a certain account. When the boss passed her desk an hour later, she told him she had made the transfer. 

“He [the boss] turned purple and green,” recalls Ed Eisenstein, once Nassau’s County’s chief information officer and now a computer consultant in Farmingdale.

The boss, Eisenstein says, had given no such order. His email had been hacked, changed by one letter that slipped by the secretary. The money was gone.

“It all happened so fast,” Eisenstein says. “And it happens just about every single day now. It’s rampant.”

He is talking about the hacking of computers at companies across LI and the nation, which began about a dozen years ago on a relatively small scale, and has in the last few years mushroomed, and spread to ransomware — the shutting down of computer systems at municipalities and school districts. Money must be paid before they are turned back on again.

“To me,” Eisenstein says, “the hacking problem is a war against the American public.”

How bad is the problem? A recent report from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education at the U.S. Department of Commerce says there are now openings for 313,735 people to detect and defeat hackers. By 2022, that number will soar to 1.8 million, according to a 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study.

Despite the growing need, according to industry insiders, there are only about six companies on the Island fully engaged in anti-cyber hacking. These are companies that have developed their own software devices to deal with increasingly complex hacking by nations such as Russia, China, Syria, and North Korea, carried out by professional cybergangs based in this country and around the world and young people who like to see how far they can get breaking into a computer system.

Atlas Cybersecurity in Great Neck is one of those companies, co-founded in 2017 by Benjamin Dynkin, a lawyer, and his brother, Barry, a legal researcher.

The Atlas office on the fourth floor of a nondescript building on Northern Boulevard is staffed 24/7 by a team of about a dozen experts who monitor the computer systems of the company’s mostly midsized clients for “suspicious activity,” Benjamin Dynkin, 25, says. Some of his team members spent a week aboard a client’s boat in the Atlantic Ocean. They detected that some of the boat’s 30 computers were under attack by hackers. They informed the client and secured the systems. The point, Dynkin says, is that cyber hackers know no boundaries, on land or on sea.

“The problems are getting worse because we are all becoming more connected,” says Dynkin, explaining that the more devices that are linked to one another — like a refrigerator to a home computer system — the greater the chance of crashes because of overloads of info, and the more openings for hackers to crack into systems.

The recent major hacks in the U.S. are well known: They include the city of Baltimore, 22 small towns across Texas, big banks, and credit card companies. A major change, industry experts say, is the demand for money, known as ransomware.

On Long Island, some of the better-known targets: The Rockville Centre School District paid almost $100,000 to have its data put back online. The district said it had no choice but to pay.

The Mineola Union Free School District was also hacked, but did not pay ransom, as it was able to restore files from backups.

Three Commack High School students were arrested after they allegedly broke into the school’s system and changed students’ grades and schedules.

“There’s just not enough companies on Long Island or elsewhere to mitigate the attacks,” says Lee Noriega, a co-founder of Skout Cybersecurity in Melville, a company formed in 2013. Noriega said many small businesses feel they are not profitable enough to be hacked. But, he said, 60 percent of all cyberattacks in the U.S. are against small and midsized businesses.

The New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury is one of only three schools in the region offering courses in anti-hacking, says Dr. Michael Nizich, director of NYIT’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center. NYIT, Pace University and NYU are officially certified by the National Security Agency and the Homeland Security Department to offer such courses. The three are among some 220 across the country also similarly certified.

More companies and qualified people will be moving into the field in the next few years, says Nizich, who is optimistic about an eventual solution.  He uses an example of gas lights in the 1800s. There were not enough people to light the gas lamps on the streets, he says. Ultimately, along came the light bulb. 

“There’s a clear path of history that says this doesn’t go on forever,” Nizich says.