Technology is rapidly evolving, and it presents a problem for law enforcement trying to keep up, said Baxter Kruger, executive director for the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security when addressing members of the Rotary Club of Columbus on Tuesday at Lion Hills Center.
This new front is largely undefined, and as such, the various organizations are fighting to gain ground.
“We have been tasked now with cybersecurity,” Kruger said. “That’s one that I think we can kind of dig into because that’s the one with the biggest question mark on it. If you ask five people what cybersecurity is, you’re going to get five different answers. The trouble that we’ve had, as a nation, is defining, ‘What is cybersecurity?’”
He said that most people think of identity theft and hacking, and he acknowledged those elements are part of the larger umbrella of cybersecurity. However, he said it is much larger than that.
“What we’re interested in is gathering intelligence on code that creates a gap in your security at your office, at your hospital, at your water system, that allows somebody to manipulate things from the digital landscape and bring it into the tangible world, making it a threat to life and safety,” Kruger said.
Cyberspace is considered a new threat stream, or ways in which a threat can manifest.
“Everything we do, we look at as a threat stream,” he said. “… So, we work on it the same way we do with any emergency management we engage in.”
The first step will be devising a plan to address any issues that may arise.
He said that there is a comprehensive emergency management plan that addresses protocol for just about any threat, however, cybersecurity is not as well developed as some others.
“The emergency support function for cybersecurity hasn’t been well defined yet,” he said. “We looked to the legislature this year. They are going to fund us in that area. Probably the year after that, once we develop the capability to define that scope a little bit, we’ll have the cybersecurity emergency support function.”
Working with local agencies
A key aspect of homeland security is creating a comprehensive threat picture.
To do this on the state level, MOHS, under the leadership of Kruger’s predecessor Lora Hunt, began an initiative where the organization worked with local law enforcement agencies, including Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus Police Department, to gather data on violent crime. The initiative is ongoing.
“It is continuing to go,” Kruger said. “I can’t speak to what my predecessor was up to, but what we’re doing is in the same vein. If you have a center like ours, the Mississippi Analysis and Information Center, it’s a fusion center. Its main mission is to combine federal intelligence and state and local law enforcement intel together to build out a big threat picture.”
He said that the project has been successful so far.
“I would venture to say we have had a very successful relationship and what we’ve produced out of that so far has been positive,” he said.
The organization also works with local law enforcement for various training as well as offering resources for them and other entities.
“Those initiatives go anywhere from community emergency response training. … We work very closely with police departments, church security, schools, you name it,” he said. “If it involves safety and threats that are man-made, that’s our business and we are all about helping.”
Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins said the partnership has been an asset for the county.
“It’s always been great for us,” he said. “We’ve never had any issues or problems with Homeland Security. They’ve always supported us here in Lowndes County. … Any support needs as far as intel that’s available through the fusion center, they provide that to us as well.”
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