2019 Alabama Office of Information Technology annual Cybersecurity Briefing

Daniel Dye / The Herald

A panel discussion concerning ransomware takes place with Ryan Allen, from left, Lou Ialacci, Michael Pruett, Eric Johnson and Sara Stanley as event attendees look on.

The Wetumpka Civic Center was the epicenter for nearly 300 IT and cybersecurity professionals who attended the Alabama Office of Information Technology’s (OIT) second annual Cybersecurity Briefing.

Main topics of discussion included crisis communications, the latest information about Alabama’s Data Breach Notification Law, ransomware and election security.  

“Elmore County was happy to be able to partner with (the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency) and OIT to host this event and bring in all these officials from across the state to help them learn about cybersecurity, the importance of it and what state and federal agencies can do to help them,” Elmore County EMA director Keith Barnett said.

The event in Wetumpka was held to commemorate Cybersecurity Awareness Month. OIT will hold a series of these briefings in 2020 in the six remaining Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. 

“Through a partnership with ALEA we have a grant that allows us to hold events like this,” OTI chief information security officer Ryan Allen said. “We held one event last year at the state Capitol which was well received. This year we have expanded it so it’s quite a bit bigger. The event is intended to spread awareness and give people the resources that can help them protect their organizations from cybercrime.”

Prior to this appointment two years ago, Allen served as the director of infrastructure and cybersecurity for Children’s Hospital of Alabama where he led IT operations functions for the third-largest pediatric hospital in the U.S.

According to Allen, the costs to hold these events are funded by a Homeland Security grant.

“The cost to attend is 100% free,” he said. 

At the midway point of the event, a ransomware panel discussion took place that featured FBI agent Sara Stanley, OIT cybersecurity director Michael Pruett, Montgomery County chief information officer Lou Ialacci, and Eric Johnson from Alabama National Guard.

They discussed a variety of real-world issues and challenges they face in their jobs and answered audience questions.

“We need to talk about the issues we face,” Ialacci said. “It happens frequently. We need to improve our safeguards so when hacks do happen we’re prepared to handle it.”

OIT was first formed through the passage of Senate Bill 117 and was signed into law on May 21, 2013. The department focuses on IT strategic planning, IT governance and IT resource utilization.