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NSA data center gives Utah cybersecurity boost

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As businesses move into the valley, we are seeing a bigger emphasis on cyber security, particularly spurred by the new (National Security Agency data center in Bluffdale). – Matthew Might

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to cybersecurity, University of Utah computing professor Matthew Might says it simply does not exist — yet.

"However bad you think things are, they're worse than that," Might said, addressing a room full of business leaders Thursday at the 2013 Governor's Utah Economic Summit.

Still, Utah is doing better that many other states, Might said.

"As businesses move into the valley, we are seeing a bigger emphasis on cyber security, particularly spurred by the new (National Security Agency data center in Bluffdale)," Might said. "The NSA data center is a whole new scale."

But a larger emphasis on cybersecurity does not just mean a safer Utah. It also means jobs.

"The federal government is giving money to the U.'s programming department to develop jobs to fill the NSA building," Might said.

The University of Utah is one of the first universities in the nation to train its programmers in cyber security, he said.

The NSA is not the only entity hiring cybersecurity experts.

With the influx of companies relocating to the Salt Lake Valley, Jennifer Smith, executive vice president and director of corporate bank operations at Zions Bancorp, said it is becoming very competitive to hire experts.

"What we have seen is an increasingly difficult recruiting market," Smith said. "It is a very hot market, and the demand is increasing."

But while the government and businesses are doing their part to make Utah more secure, there are measures consumers can take to protect their own information.

Smith said Zions warns its customers to be very clear with whom they are providing their information or transacting business online.

She also warns consumers to never open an email from someone they do not know, to shred confidential documents, and to have complex passwords.

Might suggested that consumers choose unique passwords and have a different password for each of their accounts.

"If you have anything remotely resembling a common password, people know it," he said.

Might said it is crucial to stay up to date with update patches for their software, install antiviral and anti-intrusion software, and ensure that their personal data is properly encrypted.

He also warns consumers to watch for common scams, where criminals call pretending to be their company's IT department and ask for their username and password, or where criminals install fake card readers and fake keypads on ATMs, gathering their credit card information.

Might's final suggestion, somewhat in jest, is to pray.

"In some sense, there's really not a whole lot we can do with what we have right now," he said.

Though it likely will take years — even generations — to attain true cybersecurity, Might said that's what he's striving for.

"I want to eliminate the final component," he says. "I want to take the prayer component out of cybersecurity."

E-mail: mmellor@deseretnews.com