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Join this infrastructure-security partnership — and get to know an FBI agent

Joining Infragard puts small-business owners in direct contact with your local FBI representatives at chapter meetings.
Joining Infragard puts small-business owners in direct contact with your local FBI representatives at chapter meetings. McClatchy

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are 16 distinct “critical infrastructure sectors” upon which our nation relies at all times. Among them are the energy sector, the food and agricultural sector, and the communications sector.

Since the 2013 enactment of Presidential Policy Directive 21 on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, each of these sectors has been overseen by one or two government agencies tasked with maintaining its security. For example, the energy sector is overseen by the Department of Energy, the food and agriculture sector by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, and so on.

These agencies must be prepared for any threat to their assigned sectors at any moment. As you can imagine, this is a tall order in a country of 320 million people. Potential threats to these sectors are incredibly varied, ranging from solar flares to bioterrorism to cyberattacks. The only way that each specialized agency can be prepared for these dangers is through information sharing, both through interagency collaboration and partnerships with the private sector.

InfraGard is a nonprofit organization that serves as an information-sharing partnership between U.S. companies and the FBI. Founded in 1996, Infragard has focused specifically on protecting the aforementioned 16 critical infrastructures since 2013.

Infragard maintains ties between the FBI and the nation’s infrastructure operators through two-way sharing of information. The FBI relies on InfraGard’s capacity to bring in detailed, up-to-date information about infrastructural threats from companies and individuals working in many specialized disciplines. Likewise, companies and individuals benefit from the comprehensive, far-reaching nature of reports and training provided by InfraGard with FBI assistance.

Even for small business owners, membership in InfraGard or similar government outreach organizations can offer potential benefits. Membership is free. Members go through a light vetting process — not enough to get a security clearance, but enough to gain access to a direct feed of some of the breaking cyberthreat news that might not be readily available elsewhere. The information may not be classified, but unless you’re an information security professional, you might not be aware of certain breaking trends in the threat landscape, such as new malware or trends in targeted infrastructure attacks.

Even so, the best benefit of joining such an organization for a small business is often unreported: It puts you in direct contact with your local FBI representatives on a regular basis at chapter meetings. In the event of a data breach or other security compromise, having an existing relationship with a local FBI agent (and possibly already having them on speed-dial) could make an enormous difference in the outcome.

Neal Custer is president of Reveal Digital Forensics & Security, a subsidiary of Custer Agency Inc., and an adjunct professor at Boise State University. Peter Donovan, an intern working for Custer and for U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, contributed. This column appears in the July 19-August 15, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).