Making Waves in the Cyber Security Community

The construction industry may not be the first target you think of when discussing cyber attacks; but like every other sector, building envelope companies can – and have – been exposed to online security threats with dire repercussions.

Consider what happened to New York-headquartered Turner Construction in 2015.  As reported by the American industry publication, Construct Connect, all the employees of the construction management firm were victimized in a spear phishing scheme (a targeted email scam that attempts to gain social insurance numbers, banking information etc.). 

Closer to home, Ontario-based Bird Construction was hit by a ransomware attack in January, 2020, as reported by Cybersecurity Insiders.  While it did not interrupt current work, the threat had major implications for the multi-provincial company. 

“To authenticate their stand the hacker/s claims that they have stolen around 60 Gigabytes of data which will be released into the wild if the victim, i.e., Bird Construction fails to pay the demanding ransom in Cryptocurrency,” wrote Cyberscurity Insiders reporter Naveen Goud.

The consequences, however, don’t just hit bank accounts.  Consider how many Internet-connected devices you use on the job site every day , such as smartphones, laptops, tablets; just to start.  But if you use drones or have digital signs that advise the public of your work, these too could just as easily be infiltrated.  The disruption and loss potential is enormous, and the threat is only getting larger as more of our working lives go online. 

So how do we combat these threats?  The answer is very similar to safety measures we take on a job site: prevention through education.  And just as the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT) provides programs for students who are entering the construction sector in areas like welding, so too does it provide cyber security programs, including through its new initiative, CyberWave.

Launched earlier this year, CyberWave offers training in the form of micro-credentials, with certifications available in core areas such as incident handling and network defence. Other programs focus on forensic investigations and executive management. 

A Growing Concern

CyberWave arrives at a critical time for the digital world.  COVID-19 led to companies instituting remote work, thereby increasing the proliferation of connected devices and online sharing of sensitive information.  According to a Canadian Press article from July 24, 2020, showed that online sales had increased by over 110 per cent compared to May of the previous year, while Palo Alto Networks estimates that e-crime has increased by over 400 per cent since January 2020; a rise that is directly attributable to the new operating conditions brought on by the pandemic.

As a result, guarding against cyber threats has become an imperative and employers have identified integrating cyber security into their business strategies as a key priority. Individuals with the skills to detect, respond, and protect sensitive data are among the most in-demand across country.  Labour projections by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) suggest that Canada will need to add 40,000 to 53,000 cyber security professionals to its workforce by 2023.

The micro-credential approach is not new to the construction industry; MITT has worked with associations and companies on focused programs for years and new opportunities are being rapidly developed.  These shorter programs offer the opportunity for accredited skill enhancement for experienced staff that meets the employer’s specific needs and fits into a professional’s busy life.

Along with these programs, CyberWave is also hosting a variety of salons (single webinars) that are open to the general public.

“The reality for many small and medium-sized businesses, including those in building envelope, is that hiring a dedicated staff member for cyber security is may not be feasible,” says Kathy Knight, Dean of ICT programs at MITT and Executive Director of CyberWave.  ”Training and awareness are the first line of defence, in this instance.  Micro-credentials are a great place to start.  However, ensuring all staff have a good cyber practices will go a long way to protecting your people, data and systems.”

Also, having someone in the office that can either address an issue, or speak the language when a third party needs to be consulted, could be a professional development opportunity for an existing employee.  There is no single entry point into cyber security careers.  As an employer you may have someone already on your team with the attitude and aptitude to transition into this role.

That certified expert, Knight continues, not only helps companies stay ahead of the game, they also educate other staff on best practices.

“The construction community loves sharing knowledge through Toolbox Talks and other information.  To be able to share information authoritatively provide guidance healthy cyber security practices, that not only protect your company’s assets, but also helps your full staff be aware of the online risks and preventative measures, is an incredible opportunity not to be missed,” she says.

Along with the new programs CyberWave offers, MITT continues to combat the growing hacker concern with robust, post-secondary ICT certificate and diploma programs such as its Cyber Defence and Cloud Administration diploma.

“We’re so proud of our full-time program graduates.  These bright young minds are making a tremendous difference and are becoming recognized not only locally but across the country for their abilities,” says Knight.

For more information about CyberWave and to register for upcoming courses and webinars, visit cyberwave.mitt.ca.

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About MITT

Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT) is a bridge to opportunity for students looking for career-focused learning; for industry looking for skilled workers and workforce development opportunities to fuel their growth; and for newcomers to Canada looking to adapt, settle, and integrate into a successful new life.