2nd Florida City Pays Hackers, as 3rd City Faces Breach

A second small Florida city this month has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to hackers who took over most of its computer operations, an official said Wednesday, while a third Florida city said its data was breached.

The attacks in Riviera Beach, Lake City and Key Biscayne underscore the need for municipal governments to update and secure their software systems, and also reflect the dilemma of how to respond to hackers. The FBI doesn’t condone paying ransom to hackers, but city governments often consider it the most convenient option.

The city manager of Lake City, a community of about 13,000 residents some 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Jacksonville, says it paid about $460,000 in bitcoin Tuesday to recover data and computer operations.

In a separate case, the Village of Key Biscayne, just off the coast of Miami, reported a data breach earlier this week. This comes a week after Riviera Beach in South Florida agreed to pay $600,000 in ransom .

It was not immediately clear if there was any connection between the attacks.

Joseph Helfenberg, city manager of Lake City, said paying the ransom was the cheapest option available since the city is paying a $10,000 deductible, and the rest is being covered by its insurer.

“We had a lot of attempts to recover the data that were unsuccessful,” Helfenberg said Wednesday.

Lake City was targeted by a malware attack known as “Triple Threat” on June 10, rendering many network systems and telephones inoperable. Public safety departments were largely spared, but the attack made email systems unusable and affected the city’s utilities, customer service, clerk’s office and administrative departments, said Helfenberg, who said investigators are in the process of determining how the attack happened.

In the Village of Key Biscayne, officials discovered a data security “event” on Monday, according to Andrea Agha, city manager of the town of about 13,000 residents.

“Key Biscayne is working with outside counsel and third-party forensic experts to ensure that its systems are secure, and to determine the scope of event,” Agha said in an email. She didn’t go into any further details.

In Riviera Beach, which has 35,000 residents, the hackers apparently got into the city’s system when an employee clicked on an email link that allowed them to upload malware.

The FBI in Miami refused to confirm or deny any investigation into hacking in the cities. FBI agents have

Numerous governments and businesses have been hit in the U.S. and worldwide in recent years. Baltimore refused to pay hackers $76,000 after an attack last month. The U.S. government indicted two Iranians last year for allegedly unleashing more than 200 ransomware attacks, including against the cities of Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey. The men, who have not been arrested, received more than $6 million in payments and caused $30 million in damage to computer systems, federal prosecutors have said.

The FBI says 1,493 ransomware attacks were reported last year with victims paying $3.6 million to hackers — about $2,400 per attack. Some of those were against individuals.

The three Florida cities struck by hackers this month are all very different. Riviera Beach, in South Florida, is a predominantly African American city that is also home to Singer Island on the coast where many wealthy people live. Lake City, west of Jacksonville in north Florida, is a relatively small city that once was known as Alligator and is perhaps best known as the confluence of Interstates 75 and 10.

Key Biscayne, off the tip of Miami-Dade County, is a wealthy island town where South American investors have bought up condominiums. It also is where President Richard Nixon famously kept a home near that of Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, who was later investigated for accepting a $100,000 contribution to Nixon’s campaign from billionaire Howard Hughes.

University of North Florida Tackles Skills Gap with Coding Bootcamp

The University of North Florida is partnering with coding bootcamp Fullstack Academy to offer skills training for jobs in programming and the tech field. Starting in October, the UNF Coding Bootcamp will be a non-credit, part-time program, designed to make technology education more accessible in the region.

The need for skilled tech employees is on the rise in Northeast Florida, according to a news announcement. In particular, the university’s home city of Jacksonville has applied for federal grants to build a “high-tech innovation corridor that will complement existing technology and advanced manufacturing industries,” expected to increase the demand for skilled workers.

“Fullstack Academy has been a leader in the coding bootcamp community for years, and we’re excited to bring their skills training to the university,” said Edythe M. Abdullah, dean of UNF’s Division of Continuing Education, in a statement. “It’s an opportunity for us to close the skills gap employers face by providing specialized skills training from a proven bootcamp program. We’re proud to help better prepare local workers to succeed in the highly-skilled job market of the future.”

Magic Leap and other Florida tech companies raise big money

Venture capital raised for startup companies hit new highs for the midway mark of 2019, and Florida was among the states with increased deal dollars.

Florida saw a swell in venture capital dollars raised from April to June, with South Florida companies making up nearly half, according to the second-quarter MoneyTree Report on venture capital.

The state had 22 deals worth $743 million during the quarter, compared with 24 deals worth $119 million in the same period in 2018. Mid-year, Florida has already reached $904 million, compared with $630 million a year ago.

South Florida companies raised $408 million of those dollars. Those that attracted the big bucks were:

Plantation-based Magic Leap, maker of a wearable computer, snagged $280 million from a Japan-based cell phone company. The company has a raised a total of $2.3 billion from some of the world’s largest companies including Google and Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, and the Public Investment Fund, the investment arm of Saudi Arabia.

Miami-based companies TissueTech, a biotech company in Miami, raised more than $82 million in the quarter; and CareCloud, a cloud-based healthcare business management company, $33 million. And Delray Beach-based SunWave Platform, a platform created for addition treatment centers, raised $6 million.

Magic Leap was second in Florida for the quarter by KnowBe4, a Clearwater-based internet security company that raised $300 million.

Venture capital is on track to reach record levels this year, according to MoneyTree’s producers, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and CB Insights. Nationally, deal funding increased 10 percent and transaction activity 3 percent, with $29 billion raised across 1,409 transactions, the report said.

“The last six months saw the largest total venture capital investment we’ve ever recorded for the first half of the year,” said Tom Ciccolella, U.S. venture capital leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Cyberattacks inflict deep harm at technology-rich schools

Over six weeks, the vandals kept coming, knocking the school system’s network offline several times a day.

There was no breach of sensitive data files, but the attacks in which somebody deliberately overwhelmed the Avon Public Schools system in Connecticut still proved costly. Classroom lesson plans built around access to the internet had come to a halt.

“The first time I called the FBI, their first question was, ‘Well, what did it cost you?'” said Robert Vojtek, the district’s technology director. “It’s like, ‘Well, we were down for three quarters of a day, we have 4,000 students, we have almost 500 adults, and teaching and learning stopped for an entire day.’ So how do you put a price tag on that?”

The kind of attacks more commonly reserved for banks and other institutions holding sensitive data are increasingly targeting school systems around the country. The widespread adoption of education technology, which generates data that officials say can make schools more of a target for hackers, also worsens an attack’s effects when instructional tools are rendered useless by internet outages.

Schools are attractive targets because they hold sensitive data and provide critical public services, according to the FBI, which said in a written statement that perpetrators include criminals motivated by profit, juvenile pranksters and possibly foreign governments. Attacks against schools have become common, the FBI said, but it is impossible to know how frequently they occur because many go unreported to law enforcement when data is not compromised.

Attacks often have forced districts to pull the plug on smart boards, student laptops and other internet-powered tools. Schools in the Florida Keys took themselves offline for several days last September after a district employee discovered a malware attack. Monroe County schools Superintendent Mark Porter said teachers had to do things differently but adapted quickly.

“I heard a little grumbling at the beginning and then the comment was, ‘I guess we’ll have to go old school,'” Porter said. “And they went back to work and did it the way they probably did it just a few years ago.” Schools with few or no employees dedicated to information security often are surprised to find themselves as targets. The 2,000-student Coventry Local School District in Ohio had to close schools in May as staff worked to fight a virus of that had infected the network. The FBI helped to guide the district through the recovery and offered assistance on best practices.

The school system did not have cybersecurity insurance, said Kelly Kendrick, the district’s technology director, and her three-person department is still working to debug devices affected by the attack. FBI officials told the district that the attackers apparently did not obtain sensitive information, but that it was clear they were after data of some kind, she said. “Why this little school in Akron, Ohio? Why was it a target?” Kendrick said. “It has really opened my eyes to how data of any kind is marketable, sellable.”

In September, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning the growth of education technologies and widespread collection of student identification data along with other information including academic progress and classroom activities “could have privacy and safety implications if compromised or exploited.”

Malicious use of the data could lead to bullying, tracking, identity theft and other threats, it said. Penalties can be severe. Students suspected of involvement in disruptive cyber pranks often have been hit with felony charges. And in March, Olukayode Lawal, a Nigerian man living in Smyrna, Georgia, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to be deported for his role in an email scheme that used tax information from Connecticut school employees to falsely claim tax refunds.

In many cases, school officials say they never learn who was behind the attacks. In North Dakota, where a third of schools statewide were hit with a malware attack last year, it was traced to North Korea, although it’s unclear if that country was the origin of the attack or just the location of a device that was used as a stepping stone, according to Sean Wiese, the state’s chief information security officer.

School networks “may be considered easy targets because they’re a little bit more open than your traditional corporate culture,” Wiese said. “I do feel that is changing, just not quickly enough.” In New York state, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last October to investigate and help prevent future intrusions after a series of attacks caused outages at 50 school districts. The denial-of-service attacks, designed to overload and deny access to the network, he said, “subverted teacher lesson plans and interrupted student learning.”

The outages were disruptive particularly because many of the state’s schools have issued digital devices to each student, part of a transition to a model where students spend part of a school day working at their own speed, according to Pam Mazzaferro, director of the Central New York Regional Information Center. Vojtek, whose department was tasked with responding to the denial-of-service attacks on Avon schools in late 2017, said it was difficult being the one to answer to educators for why the network was down.”It was just tough to get a handle on it and people are not resilient when it comes to their teaching resources,” he said. “So if those are gone, somebody needs to pay.”

Florida Power & Light secures Irma deal, introduces new technology to track storm expenses

Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) claim that it incurred $1.375 billion in Hurricane Irma restoration costs spurred challenges from state officials and business groups, who demanded it verify those expenses in public hearings.

Calls for substantiation from the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), which represents consumers in utility issues, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG) and the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) only grew louder after the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in May – in violation of its own policy – allowed FPL to keep $772 million in “windfall” tax savings to cover costs from the 2017 storm.

But on Tuesday, the PSC approved an agreement between the FPL, the OPC and FIPUG that “recognizes” the $1.375 billion in Hurricane Irma restoration expenses in exchange for not passing those costs onto its 5 million customer accounts.

As part of the agreement, which the FRF did not sign onto but did not oppose, FPL introduced new guidelines to better monitor outside contractors’ costs and expenses through “the use of new technology to track utility storm expenses.”

Hurricane Irma barreled across much of the state on Sept. 10, 2017, causing more than 4.4 million FPL customers to lose power. About 28,000 workers from 30 states and Canada were contracted to restore electricity, FPL maintains, leaving behind a complex blizzard of invoices and bills that the utility is still, in some instances, tabulating.

As a result – and in response to challenges to its estimates – FPL representatives said beginning this hurricane season, they will deploy a smartphone app that can track and record the time and expenses of all crews in the field.

“We have been working on some new technologies to help us better manage, track, and increase transparency around the costs of restoring power after a hurricane,” FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said.

“This agreement benefits the public interest. FPL customer bills will not increase to cover Hurricane Irma costs,” PSC Chair Art Graham said. “Customers will also benefit from FPL’s new storm cost tracking app. With closer monitoring, future restoration costs will be reduced.”

In May, the PSC agreed to allow FPL to keep $772 million in “windfall” tax savings from the federal Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) to help pay for restoring power in Irma’s wake.

The ruling was opposed by the OPC, FIPUG and the FRF, which petitioned the PSC to enforce its own policy that requires utilities share savings from 2017 tax reform with ratepayers.

FPL maintains it used reserve funds to pay Irma restoration costs and needed the TCJA tax savings to replenish its reserve. Replacing the expended reserve with the tax “windfall” meant customers would not have to pay for Irma recovery costs, FPL said.

In December, the OPC, FRF and FIPUG filed a petition with the PSC demanding “fair, just, and reasonable rates be charged by FPL following the windfall cost reduction,” claiming FPL was not accurately reporting revenues.

FPL challenged the petition, which demanded it return what was then estimated to be $736.8 million in TCJA savings to ratepayers.

In May, the commission – against staff recommendations to allow FPL to deduct Irma costs but pass tax savings onto ratepayers – ruled FPL could use the money to replenish the reserve account.

The OPC prevailed on the commission to require FPL provide greater detail of its Irma costs. But on June 6, FPL and the OPC jointly filed a proposed settlement with the PSC. The FRF and FIPUG, however, declined to sign on without a hearing before the PSC.

That hearing was scheduled for Tuesday. Instead, the parties presented the agreement, which FIPUG had also signed onto, which the commission approved.

“The storm that we’re dealing with, Irma, was a tremendous impact to your customers, throughout your service area,” PSC Commissioner Donald Polmann said. “I think everybody should recognize that this has come to a pretty quick closure with the settlement agreement. I do absolutely see this to be in the public interest that we move forward expeditiously.”

Florida businesses adopting holistic technology strategies

When Mark Lipscomb, RoundTower’s district director for Florida, called upon a potential client, the executive told him that he already had 16 vendors. “Why would I need a 17th?” he asked.

Lipscomb said he then asked the executive what kind of value he received from all of his vendors. But the executive couldn’t answer. “Clients that choose RoundTower tell me that vendor consolidation is exactly why they do business with us. However, I believe we bring a holistic technology strategy to the table that is unheard of in our industry.”

Most companies are looking to reduce complexity and the number of business partners. RoundTower’s wide portfolio allows for such consolidation and the depth of RoundTower’s expertise allows the client to extract value from less obvious technology and financial strategies, Lipscomb said.

Companies often lack the resources and expertise to maximize ROI by fully integrating their disparate technologies. “All of those worlds collide with each other at some point,” Lipscomb said.

“IT is no longer just cost to the business. Now IT is the business and companies adopting IT strategy as a competitve advantage are clearly outfront” Lipscomb said.


Cincinnati-based RoundTower builds solutions around the businesses that it serves, such as helping them to choose the right cloud infrastructure, automating business process, and assisting companies to align the organization properly to extract the most value for modern IT investments.

“A lot of companies out there are still selling technology like it’s a light bulb that you can take out of a box and screw in,” Lipscomb said. “But that’s not how it works. There are too many considerations.”

With a minimum of three technology experts to every salesperson, RoundTower has invested in the talent necessary to help clients transform and keep pace. RoundTower’s expertise includes cloud and automation technologies, cybersecurity, managed services, data analytics, DevOps, and digital workspaces to name a few.

RoundTower’s combination of business acumen and technical expertise has helped it grow to more than 425 employees and more than $430 million in annual revenue since it launched in 2007, according to a profile in Cincinnati Business Courier. After seven years in Florida, it now generates more than $100 million annually in the state.

RoundTower works with several of Florida’s Fortune 50 companies and other businesses throughout the state. It’s been particularly active in financial services, transportation, retail and healthcare.

Companies know that they need to do more with their technology, but they often don’t know where or how to begin. “There’s a demand for thought leadership,” Lipscomb said. “We can bring the experience of our deliveries and what we’ve done to help businesses to companies that are struggling to determine what to do.”

RoundTower helps businesses become more agile so that they can continuously improve efficiency by implementing the latest technologies and best practices. Clients have been especially interested in leveraging the cloud, improving security and optimizing workflows.

RoundTower unleashes trapped profitability through an assessment-driven approach. Then it implements the changes by combining the proper technologies. “We’re tied to delivering the outcome more than selling a product,” Lipscomb said.

For example, RoundTower’s enterprise service management team helps companies save time and money by automating workflows. Companies can streamline processes like onboarding new employees by connecting technologies across departments.

Predictable tasks, like setting up computers and issuing ID cards, are done in the right order, at the right time. “It has a great return on investment in the amount of human capital you take to do things that are repeatable,” Lipscomb said.

Learn more about the IT solutions offered by RoundTower.

RoundTower is a solution provider that delivers innovative solutions and services in the areas of data center infrastructure, cloud automation and DevOps, big data, analytics and IoT, ServiceNow, end-user computing and mobility, and cyber security.  RoundTower is enabling its customers to drive positive business outcomes by becoming more agile, efficient, and secure through the use of technology.

Florida Tech Again a ‘Golden Age’ University with 2019 Ranking

Times Higher Education (THE), the respected, London-based provider of data and analytics on higher education, has recognized Florida Tech for the second consecutive year in its Golden Age University Rankings.

The 2019 list features 271 top global institutions founded between 1945 and 1967, reflecting what THE describes as the “Golden Age” in international higher education, characterized by rapid university expansion and increasing investment in research.

Florida Tech was ranked in the 101-150 range and was one of just 19 U.S.-based universities on the list, including four in Florida.

The ranking was developed by examining and rating 13 performance indicators grouped in five key areas: teaching environment, research environment, citation impact, knowledge transfer and international outlook, with the first three areas accounting for 90 percent of the ranking. It is the same methodology THE uses for its broader World University Rankings.

The Golden Age university list is published alongside THE’s Young University Rankings which honors universities under the age of 50. Florida Tech, founded in 1958, has celebrated its 60th anniversary over the last year.

Find the Golden Age rankings at https://bit.ly/2FwiKmw.

This is not the first time this year THE has recognized Florida Tech. In April, the organization highlighted the university’s strength in sustainability research, its success in serving as a “community custodian” of arts and heritage, and the impact of its internal approaches to sustainability by including it in its University Impact Ratings.

Florida Tech Project Takes Top Prize at Statewide Senior Design Showcase

MELBOURNE, FLA. — An invention that replaces a pneumatic compression device with electrically-actuated spring-powered compression that could bring relief to more than 180 million worldwide sufferers of painful swelling caused by lymphedema won a top prize at the second annual Florida-Wide Engineering Senior Design Invitational Spring 2019. This is the second straight year Florida Tech students have taken top honors.

Held April 22 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, the event brought together senior projects from the engineering colleges at 10 Florida universities.

Florida Tech’s winning entry, a biomedical engineering project called “Nixus,” was from students Thomas Ward, Ariana Eichler, Samantha Schultz and Daniel Mastellar. Faculty advisors were Kunal Mitra, Ted Conway and Kenneth Gibbs.

The project won the People’s Choice Award, which along with the Judges Award is given to the top university teams.

“Nixus” is easy to put on and can be worn continuously. It uses nickel-titanium actuators and nylon bands, which “compress sequentially from the ankle to knee to facilitate lymphatic drainage. Pressure sensors are placed between the device and the patient’s leg to ensure therapeutic and safe pressures,” according to the project description.

At Florida Tech’s own capstone design event, the Northrop Grumman Engineering & Science Student Design Showcase held April 12, “Nixus” won the Northrop Grumman Best in Show Award for engineering and the Entrepreneurial Award, as well as the category award in Biomedical Engineering.

The Design Invitational at FAU was developed by engineering deans from the Florida universities to showcase the collective strength of engineering and computer science programs in the Sunshine State and the impact these institutions have in providing thousands of skilled engineering and technology graduates entering the innovation economy.

“From Jacksonville to Miami, to the Space Coast and the High Tech Corridor, Florida’s universities are educating and preparing thousands of engineering and computer science students for jobs in the Sunshine State – the nation’s fastest-growing economy – and beyond,” event organizers said.

Florida Tech sent two additional projects to the Design Invitational in Boca Raton. They were:

Sun Nuclear Water Pumping Reservoir: This project, from students Spencer Caldwell, Clinton Kannenberg, Jeff Stanifer, John Linn, Ljubomir Garvic, Chen Han, Qurat-us-Ain Panjwani, Jicmat Ali and Michael Anderson, redesigned the reservoir, pump and other elements of Sun Nuclear’s Radiation Scanning System.
Piston Dampening System: Students David Zanni, Tyler Crawford, Trevor Gebelein, Garrett Jacobellis, Barbara Shreve, Randi Stewart and Alana Thornton, working with Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Ballistic missile Ground Equipment Team, designed an improved safety system that interfaces with and protects multi-million dollar equipment while safeguarding civilians from unexpected piston deployment.
“All three Florida Tech projects exemplify how our innovative mix of hands-on learning, classroom experience and real-world partnerships empower our students to succeed on campus and beyond,” said College of Engineering and Science Dean Marco Carvalho. “We are proud to have them representing Florida Tech in the Design Invitational.”

In addition to Florida Tech and host FAU, participating schools were: Florida A&M University/Florida State University, University of Florida, University of Northern Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Miami, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of South Florida and Florida International University.

Raytheon to merge with United Technologies following spin off of Florida subsidiary

Raytheon Co., the 98-year-old defense contractor headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts will merge with Connecticut-based United Technologies in an all-stock deal that will create one of the largest public companies in the state by headcount, revenue and market value.

Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) and UT (NYSE: UTX) announced the planned merger on Sunday, saying the combined firm will remain based in the Boston area. A spokesperson for Raytheon said there’s “nothing more definitive” on Sunday evening regarding whether it would remain in Raytheon’s current headquarters in Waltham.

United Technologies owns Pratt & Whitney, which has a major aerospace facility west of Palm Beach Gardens where it builds military jet engines. The company’s Rockwell Collins also has an office in West Palm Beach.

The combined company will retain Raytheon’s name. In terms of headcount, it would rival General Electric (NYSE: GE), which is currently the largest company headquartered in Mass. with 283,000 employees. Raytheon currently has about 70,000 employees worldwide, while UT has 240,000, although UT plans to spin off two businesses before the merger is completed: Otis Elevator Co., which has 68,000 employees, and Carrier Corp., which has 45,000 employees.

Carrier Corp. will be based in Palm Beach Gardens once the spin off is completed, making it one of South Florida’s largest public companies.

The focus of the new company will be on aerospace and defense, and it “will offer expanded technology and R&D capabilities to deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions aligned with customer priorities and the national defense strategies of the U.S. and its allies and friends,” the two companies said in a statement.

Tom Kennedy, Raytheon’s current CEO, will be named executive chairman of the combined company, and Greg Hayes, CEO of UT, will be named CEO. Two years after the completion of the merger, Hayes will assume the roles of chairman and CEO.

A statement announcing the deal said there will be “more than $1 billion of gross annual cost synergies” by 2024.

The new company will have combined revenue of about $74 billion in pro forma 2019 sales, still below GE’s revenue of $121 billion in 2018 but surpassing TJX Companies Inc., which had the second-highest revenue of any Massachusetts-based public company last year with about $40 billion in 2018 sales. The statement said the merger will create “new revenue opportunities from combined technology.”

South Florida digital advertising tech secures $1M in new funding

VuPulse, a Boca Raton-based startup, has secured $1.025 million in a Series A funding round led by Tampa-based Florida Funders and Sarasota-based Bridge Angel Investors.

The latest capital injection from a Florida firm bring’s the digital advertising platform’s funding total to about $1.6 million. The company previously secured $587,500 from Boca Raton-based New World Angels in June 2018.

“This funding will help us further develop and scale our solution to help companies meet their business goals,” said VuPulse CEO Kevin Hill.

VuPulse’s technology uses machine learning to provide companies with intelligence for digital marketing and advertising campaigns through “intelligent urls” that are send consumers directly to their preferred place to buy products. Its clients include Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.

“Among the numerous investments being made in ad tech, the VuPulse solution stood out for us as serving a critical need faced by every company, across industries,” said Kevin Adamek, partner at Florida Funders.