Local group fills role in battle [Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.]
(Daily News (Bowling Green, KY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 25--When the U.S. Air Force cyber defense operations in San Antonio wanted someone to watch its computer network 24/7 for hackers and malware, it chose a company in Bowling Green.
EWA Government Systems Inc., located in the Western Kentucky University Small Business Accelerator, monitors, finds and neutralizes computer intrusions.
"Over 50 percent of the staff are WKU graduates," said Ed Tivol, vice president of intelligent operations and homeland security. "We're both a research and development and operational facility in support of federal government programs."
A large multicolored world map dominating a huge room jammed with sophisticated computers operated by hundreds of people in tense, hushed tones comes to mind.
Nope. The Bowling Green office has 14 people. The office suite is unremarkably dull. Not a single flashing world map or several clocks set to different time zones surface during a recent tour.
Without the bells and whistles that cyber terrorism movies use as a staple, the Bowling Green office staff spars with what Tivol calls "script kiddies," professionals who are state-sponsored computer terrorists around the world. The U.S. Department of Defense often asks for third-party monitors to thwart the "script kiddies."
Not just anyone can do the work. There are difficult tests that must be passed in order to become certified. One of the prize posts is a CEH designation: certified ethical hacker, Tivol said.
Jon Pashal, operations manager, holds a CEH and other designations. He's good. At a recent New York cyber conference put on by New York University and Fordham University, Pashal placed second in a cyber challenge, Tivol said. Several years ago, a team from Bowling Green placed 12th in the world at the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center Challenge.
"It would be absolutely impossible to manually look at the data and detect what's wrong," Tivol said. "So we have automated tools."
Much of what is done in Bowling Green is classified, so Tivol can't talk about those tasks.
But he was able to discuss some aspects of a two-week exercise where reconnaissance was required to look for unprotected passwords, misconfigured equipment and implanted malware attempts.
The team reviewed 9,700,000 incidents, called "intrusion detection system alerts," and blocked 51 "hostile" internet protocol (IP) addresses.
"You try to detect and mitigate the attack in real time," Tivol explained. The result? Cyber attacks caused no significant degregation.
Tivol said national security and evaluating private companies' defense mechanisms is never something you want to be complacent about.
"There's no perfect protection, but you can take certain steps," Tivol said, adding that the landing of the U.S. Air Force 24/7 project shows "a lot of faith in us because we have a demonstrated track record."
Tivol likes the work because it's profitable, terribly interesting and uses cutting-edge technology. "This is an opportunity for bright, dedicated men and women to be provided good jobs in Bowling Green."
Besides the cyber defense work, Bowling Green has also developed computer software for public agencies. The Louisiana State Department of Social Services uses the software to manage evacuations and emergency shelters. The Indiana State Department of Health uses the software to track availability of hospital beds during an emergency, such as if a hospital is leveled by a tornado.
EWA goes back to 1977 as a company based in Virginia. The Bowling Green office opened in 2005.
Paschal, a graduate of Warren Central High School and WKU, likes the work because it presents a mental challenge and there is a chance to make a difference.
"Network traffic analysis is almost like a video game, but when our software was used to track people for emergency evacuations, we could see (on television) those people get bused out in a shelter," Paschal said.
-- Chuck Mason covers education. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bgdnschools or visit bgdailynews.com.
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