OU Hosts Cyber Security Training for Synagogues

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25 Dec 2014


Increased cyber-attacks against some of the most recognizable companies across the country—Target, Neiman Marcus, Discover, Home Depot and most recently, Sony—hacking confidential personal information, private emails and important projects, leaves serious potential threats against any website, including those of synagogues.

“Certainly now with big corporations being targeted, synagogues are vulnerable too,” said Yehuda Friedman, associate director of the Orthodox Union Karasik Department of Synagogue Services. “Shuls are being more mindful as hackers dig for electronic information and resources.”

Backup websites. Limit access of site administrators. Don’t publish membership lists. Control Social Media information and data through privacy controls.

These were some of the preventative measures expanded upon for synagogue representatives when the Orthodox Union recently coordinated a webinar on Cyber Security Training for Synagogues.

In conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, National Association of Temple Administrators, and the North American Association of Synagogue Executives, the cyber security training featured FBI Cyber Division Unit, and ADL Assistant Director of Cyberhate Reponse Jonathan Vick speaking on a national focus.

“Like the public and retail sectors, synagogues and community institutions need to be on guard 24/7 for hackers and attempted acts of cyber intrusion,” said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director.  “We’ve already seen some isolated incidents where synagogues have fallen prey to hacker attacks. Unfortunately, given the world we live in, Jewish institutions and organizations remain a prime target of anti-Semites and cyber-terrorists and must always be on guard.”

“The goal for synagogues, schools and community institutions should be to safeguard their databases, websites, e-mails and other digital information against the ‘hacker-frenzy’ environment that now exists around the world,” explained Jonathan Vick during his presentation. “If Sony, Target and Home Depot can fall victim to hackers, so too can Jewish organizations. Simple steps can help prevent loss of data and other risks associated with doing business in the online environment.”

Yehuda Friedman added that it’s important for synagogues to have a two-step verification process for passwords. More advice offered included limiting the number of individuals with password information and changing passwords when site administrators change.

As a service to its member congregations, the Orthodox Union  facilitated a meeting with a representative from the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services for synagogues to discuss security concerns and best practices.

“Synagogue security is a very deep concern, and the OU recommends implementing necessary safeguards to protect the physical facility and intellectual property of its synagogue membership,” Friedman noted.

As North America’s first synagogue, OU member Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan is often a tourist attraction due to its special landmark building with architectural pedigree. With a close working relationship with the New York City Police Department, they have a distinct relationship with security forces on a local level. “We’re on the map and that means we attract many visitors, and it is not unseal for passersby to stop by. What might be experienced as unusual or even suspicious peering or gazing at other synagogues might be perfectly normal for us,” said Barbara Reiss, its executive director. “So on the one hand, this may mean that we might be thought of as more of a target than some other places but it also means that the police and the city may prioritize us as a priority when they’re considering security needs of the Jewish community. Bottom line, we get a lot of attention, hopefully only for good.”

Zeroing in on synagogues located in the Greater New York area, Synagogue Security Best Practices, coordinated as part of monthly executive director meetings, showcased how the New York State Homeland Security Services could be a resource for OU member congregations and connect them specifically with the spokesman based in New York.

“Every synagogue is concerned about a variety of security risks in any time—concerned about potential crime; those entering our houses of worship who could hurt our members or steal our property; of natural disasters and fires,” Mrs. Reiss added.  “The newer concern for Jewish communities in our area, sadly, are acts of terrorism, so you have to think about different risks—how to prevent them, how to mitigate and respond appropriately.”

“The professional presentation demonstrated extensive experience integrating cutting-edge security technology and procedures into the often fractured fabric of synagogue communities, and the opportunity to ask him questions and bounce ideas off the larger group was invaluable,” noted Leonard Silverman, executive director of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.

For further information on synagogue cyber safety, contact Yehuda Friedman at Friedmanye@ou.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.