Although cyber and ransomware attacks against large companies are the stories that make the evening news, in reality more than 70% of cyber attacks target small businesses.
Yet, small businesses are less likely to protect themselves against attacks or have a plan in place for reacting to them. The cost of hiring cybersecurity staff or an outside consultant can seem well out of their reach.
Christian Tenorio knows this well. In 2014, his family opened Red Rice, an authentic Chamorro restaurant located on Eastern Avenue, after several years of catering birthdays, weddings, and more.
“With all of the other concerns you have as a business owner – such as inventory, staff, and your supply chain – cybersecurity is the last thing you want to worry about,” says Tenorio. “And, as a small business owner, you might think you can’t afford it.”
Luckily, in addition to being co-owner of Red Rice, Tenorio is an alum of UNLV, having graduated with a degree in entrepreneurship from the Lee Business School. That connection and a conversation with another student made him aware of UNLV's Free Cyber Clinic.
The new clinic offers onsite security auditing, security policy creation, business continuity plan development, security device and software configuration, and cost analysis for advanced services.
“The initial assessment made me aware of potential risks with our point-of-sale (POS) system, the need to have built-in redundancies, and the importance of creating systems to prevent possible cyber attacks going forward,” says Tenorio. “We’ve tweaked some things, and are now doing a deeper assessment.”
Addressing Workforce Needs
The clinic's benefits go well beyond assisting small businesses like Tenorio's. It's part of UNLV efforts to ensure students are workforce ready, says computer science professor and clinic director Yoohwan Kim.
"There is a tremendous need for cybersecurity professionals in the state and nationwide." But employers need applicants with strong academic credentials and some experience applying that knowledge.
“We established the Free Cyber Clinic to help small businesses mitigate cybersecurity risks and at the same time provide, not just training, but hands-on experience to our students,” he says.
Students who volunteer with the Free Cyber Clinic receive training and CompTIASecurity+ certification. The initial team of volunteers was assembled last fall and over the past year has created operating procedures, training programs, and ethics rules, and then started working directly with small businesses.
“When we talk to potential new student volunteers, we tell them what the clinic experience will do for them – such as the opportunity to get certified, and learning both hard and soft skills,” says Mehdi Abid, cybersecurity graduate student and vice president of the Free Cyber Clinic. “But we’ve found that as students start working with clients, the benefits to themselves really take a back seat. After understanding what is at stake and working personally with a few clients, the students are most interested in helping the small businesses.”
That personal bond helps build trust with their clients, which is incredibly important as businesses are sharing a lot of sensitive information. “It is very important for us to be transparent and discuss with clients who will have access to the information as we analyze their assets and identify anything that could be compromised,” says Abid.
Bolstering the credentials of the Free Cyber Clinic and its volunteer students is the fact that UNLV is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) as designated by the National Security Agency. “The Free Cyber Clinic will be an essential part of our CAE-CD program, and hopefully we can expand it to the entire cybersecurity academic community,” notes Juyeon Jo, director of the program and a computer science professor.
Small Business Development Center
The Free Cyber Clinic is partnering with UNLV’s Nevada Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to identify clients who could best utilize their services.
Albert Delgado, Nevada SBDC project manager, says, “Partnering with the College of Engineering’s Free Cyber Clinic is a win for everyone – we have the ability to offer an additional service, our clients have the opportunity to better protect their businesses, and students are getting real-world experience.”
In addition to his Free Cyber Clinic volunteering, Abid is an intern with the SBDC, which has given him a chance to better understand small business cybersecurity needs. This fall the Free Cyber Clinic team is conducting a survey of SBDC clients to further identify businesses in need of support and refine what support is most required.
“It isn’t just 1s and 0s anymore,” says Abid. “We want to do the best we can for our clients. Our goal is to strengthen the community, level the playing field, and have no one,
especially small businesses, feel like they are in a position of weakness.”
Nevada Small Business Development Center
The Nevada SBDC at UNLV has a team of experienced business advisors ready to assist entrepreneurs. As a partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the office provides services in a variety of areas, such as business planning, marketing, finance, and more to help small businesses succeed.