When individuals or small businesses suffer cyberattacks, their first phone calls are often to their local law enforcement or 911 call centers. And while police departments and sheriff’s offices in major cities and counties might have cybercrime units with the knowledge to begin an investigation, most jurisdictions’ law enforcement agencies — especially if they’re remote and rural — don’t.
But the Texas Department of Information Resources is attempting to change that, launching a new online course to give Texas law enforcement officers the know-how to recognize digital crimes like ransomware.
Tony Sauerhoff, the state’s deputy chief information security officer and cybersecurity coordinator, said the course — which is being offered through Texas A&M University’s Engineering Extension Service, known as TEEX — was the product of conversations with local officials and regional councils of government about public-safety officials receiving a high volume of calls about cyberattacks and not knowing how to respond.
“More often than not, it turns out that the first responders to cyber incidents are law enforcement and 911 personnel,” Sauerhoff told StateScoop, recalling a conversation with one of those regional councils. “Our residents dial 911 when they have a cyber problem, and those folks aren’t really trained on how to respond to those incidents.”
Hearing similar things from other parts of the state, Sauerhoff and his DIR colleagues broached the idea of a training course to TEEX and developed it over several months before opening it on Tuesday.
Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other personnel who take the course aren’t getting a full education in information security, Sauerhoff said, but they will be trained to recognize a cyberattack and on the appropriate steps to take — such as contacting DIR’s incident response team or federal agencies like the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
“This isn’t by any stretch attorney turning local law enforcement into cybersecurity professionals,” he said. “But just giving them the basics in those areas where they are the first responders, they can understand what they’re looking at, they can they can identify a what a cyber incident is.”
The curriculum from the TEEX course will be tailored for a law-enforcement audience, including identifying cyber crime scenes, securing and handling evidence and working with Texas’ penal code regarding computer crimes. The course will also count toward the continuing education hours many personnel are required to complete annually, a feature that Sauerhoff said should help broaden its appeal.
“As we were getting started, [someone] said good luck getting any of those folks to do any training that doesn’t provide credit, because any training time they have available, they’re going spend on training that gives them credit,” he said. “TEEX was able to make that happen.”
But one of the biggest benefit may be in making small, rural law enforcement more familiar with DIR, Sauerhoff said.
“A big part of it is knowing who to call,” he said. “If it’s any sort of governmental entity…those all those all would come to DIR for support. And sheriffs or police departments in those areas may not — previously to the training — have been aware that DIR is a resource there to help them.”