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North Dakota Launches Statewide Cybersecurity Campaign

Since the pandemic began, attempted cyberattacks on state entities have been incessant, but North Dakota hopes to cut down on risk by spreading information about common threats to its entire population.

The North Dakota Information Technology Department (NDIT) has launched "DefeND," a new statewide awareness campaign designed to educate North Dakotans about the dangers that lurk in cyberspace.

The campaign will run on TV and digital channels over the next several months and is designed to alert citizens to common threats and security mistakes, such as phishing, weak passwords, sharing personal information online and other vulnerabilities. 

Officials hope the campaign's hashtag — #BeCyberSmart — will have viral appeal for social media users, and that state residents will also visit a recently launched website to learn about basic security facts and tips.

"Make no mistake that cybercrime is not a little thing, and it's not just something that might show up in a movie," said Gov. Doug Burgum during a press conference Thursday. "It is now a multi-billion dollar illicit enterprise. Educating North Dakotans on this growing threat is a priority." 

Burgum's administration isn't just trying to spread risk awareness because October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Like a lot of states, North Dakota saw a drastic escalation in hostile activity after the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

"We had over a five-fold increase in attacks [since the start of the pandemic]," said the governor Thursday, adding that the rush to statewide telework made agencies bigger targets than ever. "We've got the surface area of a Fortune 50 company. We would be a really valuable target for a foreign country to come after." 

North Dakota has deployed a number of different strategies this year in an effort to secure its public sector amidst the turbulence of the pandemic. Risk awareness is clearly a key piece of any security strategy, however, a fact that NDIT Chief Information Security Officer Kevin Ford says should be internalized by everyone. 

“In an increasingly connected world, it is important that we empower individuals and organizations to better protect their part of cyberspace at home, work or school, any time on any device,” said Ford, in a statement. "If everyone does their part, our interconnected world will be safer and more resilient for everyone.”

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.