UEA Toughens Practices, Improves Culture around Cybersecurity

A Waverly manufacturer of custom rotary motion products has upgraded its technological practices and revamped its culture after attending a CIRAS educational event on cybersecurity. 

Howard Samarin, IT supervisor at United Equipment Accessories (UEA), said he was shocked after he and the company’s system administrator attended a December 2019 CIRAS event on data security. 

“We got in the car after it was over, and we just looked at each other,” Samarin said. “We knew we had to get some stuff figured out. . . . Basically, it really became a roadmap and a path for us to start moving forward.” 

Like many small Iowa companies, UEA used to believe that it didn’t need to do that much to safeguard its information systems—after all, who would want to mess with a small Iowa manufacturer?  

In reality, many Iowa companies have been damaged by a nationwide increase in ransomware and other security threats.  

“It wasn’t a question of if it was going to happen to us,” Samarin said. “It was when.”  

Concerned about the breadth of the problem, UEA officials worked with CIRAS to obtain more information about best practices according to Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, a framework created by the U.S. Department of Defense as a benchmarking tool for data security. CIRAS experts outlined the recommendations and helped the company understand exactly how they would apply to UEA. 

“We coached them on what these practices are and how they should think about that in terms of their own business,” said CIRAS project manager Shankar Srinivasan. “They realized they needed help to review their whole system and find the gaps.” 

Eighteen months later, UEA has upgraded hardware and software. The company has improved policies on passwords, trained employees on how to avoid phishing attacks, and taken steps to secure its servers from overseas hackers. But the biggest change, according to Samarin, has come in terms of culture. 

“Cybersecurity is now an integrated part of our decision-making process,” he said. “It’s ingrained in our business decisions.” 

Samarin praised CIRAS for its guidance in helping companies stay ahead of bad actors. 

“If somebody really wants in, they’ll get in,” Samarin said. “But we’re going to make it as hard as possible for them, so maybe they’ll pass us by and go to the guy down the street.” 

“That’s where you guys come in,” he said of CIRAS with a chuckle. “Helping the guy down the street.” 

For more information, contact Shankar Srinivasan at srigshan@iastate.edu or 515-290-6702.