Sometime during 2020 hackers broke into digital systems run by Solar Winds, an American tech firm, and inserted malware into its code. The hack went undetected for months until some of the company’s clients discovered large amounts of their data had been stolen.

While Solar Winds is thought to be the biggest cyberattack in the U.S., it is certainly not the only one. Between 2019 and 2020 more than 600 towns, cities and counties were hit by ransomware attacks that shut down hospitals, police departments and more. Right here in our area, the University of Vermont Health Network was impacted by just such an attack.

This month’s issue of Strictly Business is focused on some North Country companies that are dedicated to protecting area businesses.

Our cover article features a new version of an old company. LayerEight, formerly operating as Primelink, is a subsidiary of Champlain Telephone Company, a North Country fixture for nearly 120 years. LayerEight offers business customers all-inclusive IT services. Meet the team in this issue.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s School of Business & Economics has created a program that turns the term “hacker” into a positive rather than a negative. By teaching students the importance of social responsibility in the Wild West of cyberspace, as well as the knowledge needed to build a successful career, the school is turning out graduates ready for the job market.

FirstLight Fiber, which began in New England and now also works across New York and into Pennsylvania, finalized its acquisition of Primelink’s Local Exchange Carrier division in 2020. Learn more about the company and its plans for the North Country in Connie Mandeville’s article.

Data breach insurance is coverage few businesses considered just a few years ago. Now, with growing concerns about data safety, it has become well worth considering. Randy Giltz, of Northern Insuring, talks about his family company and the benefits of a close working relationship with your insurance agency.

Planet offers classes to help area residents over 60 safely navigate their way around the world wide web. Begun in New York City, and brought to the North Country with the help of funding sponsored by Assemblyman Billy Jones, its network programming — virtual since last March — attracts an audience of enthusiastic learners.

Our Insight feature this month highlights Jackie Madison, an Information Technology Specialist who came to the North Country to work at Pfizer and stayed when the facility closed. Not ready to embrace retirement, she is now president of the Underground Railroad Historical Association. Read about her experiences and plan to visit the Museum when it reopens when COVID is under control.

Bonnie Black, of Behavioral Health Services North, offers suggestions for coping with the stress of the pandemic. Her ideas about moving from resistance to resilience are worth a careful read.

Colin Read begins his column this month with a question. “Are We Safer Now?” I believe you will find his analysis of our cybersecurity problems interesting and the path forward frustrating.

And then Garry Douglas wraps up this issue with a surprise – a new logo for the Chamber. At a time when many businesses are treading water, it should be no surprise to anyone that the Chamber is not standing still but rather looking ahead to rebrand and renew. Onward and Upward!

Detecting and preventing cybersecurity breaches is a daunting task at best — one that becomes more complicated as time and technology advance. And yet we must find ways to protect our information and that of our customers. I wish I had an easy solution to offer. The best I can suggest is don’t try to go it alone but instead partner with a reputable service provider. If you do…

…that will be good for business.