Haverhill, Area Communities and Schools Receive Cybersecurity Awareness Training Grants

Acting Gov. Karyn Polito. (WHAV News photograph.)

(More photographs below.)

Employees of the City of Haverhill, its public schools and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School will receive state-paid training in how to avoid outside attacks on computer systems.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, serving as acting governor, told leaders from around the state gathered Tuesday in Haverhill City Hall why the Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness Grant Program is so important.

“One of the reasons why we’re here to give these awards to you is to show that the City ofHaverhill with nearly 2,000 employees—that’s amazing between your schools and your municipal employees—and if it is just one of them that does something out of ignorance, just an innocent mistake, can be highly disruptive,” she said.

State Technology Services and Security Secretary Curtis M. Wood explained computer hacking, ransomware and phishing are mostly prevented by rank-and-file employees and not IT departments.

“When people take security risk training, they’re less likely to click on a phishing. We’ve demonstrated this at the state. It sounds very basic, but it is very, very true.

The city and Haverhill Public Schools are first-time participants in the program and received a grant that will see 1,900 city employees receive end-user cybersecurity training. Besides Haverhill, leaders from around the state gathered in Haverhill City Hall to formally share in $250,000 in grants to train 57,000 employees from 210 communities and public school districts across the Commonwealth.

Sounding at times like a farewell address, Polito emphasized that she and Gov. Charlie Baker intentionally focused over the last seven years on helping individual cities and towns.

“I just want to say thank you. It’s been an honor to serve in this role alongside the governor to build the relationship with municipal government, but also to strengthen municipal government with you. The number of best practices that you’ve incorporated into local government through the Community Compact program to the regionalization and the efficiencies you found,” she said.

Referencing a ransomware attack on Haverhill schools last year, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said the city is developing what he calls a “1950 backup plan” to keep government operating when computers are down.

“We want a backup plan so that if we get hit, we have backup paper copies of everything. That we have typewriters—anyone remember typewriters? That we have ways of making copies even if they internet is down. That we have copper wires for our telephones so that we can continue critical government services even if we get hit,” the mayor said.

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell noted the legislature recognized the significance of the threat by creating the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity that she co-chairs with Andover Sen. Barry R. Finegold.

“At our level in the legislature, new committees don’t happen very often. I think that was a very clear indication of how serious we take this challenge as well and also, we back it up with funding,” she said.

Finegold noted the state lost in 2020 more than $100 million in cybertheft, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine could bring even greater threats.

“Just when we thought we were done with COVID, we have a world conflict. The way this relates back to cybersecurity is that the only thing that is really is predictable right now is unpredictable and our vigilance has to be even stronger than it was even before,” he said.

Besides Haverhill, area communities to receive training include Amesbury, CREST Collaborative in Andover, Boxford, Groveland, Lawrence, Methuen, Newburyport schools and library, North Andover, Pentucket Regional School District and West Newbury.

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