• United States




Dial 211 for cyberattacks

Oct 31, 20194 mins

The Cybercrime Support Network aims to be the 911 for cyberattack victims.

A man speaking into the microphone of a headset while sitting at a computer.
Credit: PeopleImages / Getty Images

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This quote from Margaret Mead is one of my favorite. Who doesn’t love a story about one person or a small group standing up to much larger monied interests or the status quo and changing the world?

The IT computer security world has its own heroes and heroines. One of those is Kristin Judge, CEO and president of the Cybercrime Support Network (CSN). Judge has been serving her community and the IT world for many years in various capacities. Her latest effort at the non-profit, public/private consortium CSN is to make it easier for victims of cybercrime to recover their assets. Their most visible and active project is building capacity that would allow anyone in the US to dial 211 on their phone to get help recovering from a cybercrime. It’s 911, but for the internet.

What is the Cybercrime Support Network?

A 211 call center service has existed in various forms in all states for years. There are at least 236 211 call centers, many funded and run by the United Way charity to help provide assistance for those in need (such as for housing, clothing and food). Judge partners with state and local governments to fund the training and staff to add an adjunct function in those 211 call centers.

When someone thinks they have a cybersecurity incident, they can call 211 and get a basic initial assessment, some quick recommendations, and information to other more detailed resources. The 211 call specialists would not be trained cybersecurity incident response people. They are more like dispatchers who offer a little help and tell you better help is on the way. They tell victim to call their bank right away, to turn off their computer, and who to call to get better help.

Think about how many times your family members, friends and strangers have asked you for help with some cybersecurity issue. Maybe they think they have a malware infection. Maybe they’ve been conned on Craigslist. Maybe they got romance scammed. Now you can say, “Call 211!”

Well, it’s not everywhere yet. In fact, it’s just starting to eke out an existence, but “Cybersecurity-211” is growing. It’s currently live in Rhode Island, Western Michigan, and Central Florida (three counties including Orlando). It’s funded to be statewide in North Carolina, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Alabama in the first quarter of 2020, and CSN is working toward funding to support 10 to 15 states by June 2020. Judge is working to get the big states, like California and Texas on board.

This is not bad for a non-profit entity that has only been in existence since 2017 and had only one employee in June. It has grown to 23 employees, many funded by grants. It shows you the need for such a service.

The idea is having people call 211 directly, visit the website or be referred to 211 when a cybercrime victim calls 911 or local law enforcement (if local law enforcement can’t help). The number one referral is already coming from 911 call centers and local law enforcement.

CSN is supported by donations and grants, including from involved states and counties, the United Way, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, AT&T, Comcast, Google, KnowBe4, Nord VPN, Trend Micro and Verizon. [Full disclosure: KnowBe4 is my employer.] It was recently awarded a cooperative agreement from the Department of Homeland Security to help build an improved cybercrime reporting form and share data with state and local law enforcement. CSN works in partnership with the FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center to improve data sets at the federal level.

How the Cybercrime Support Network works

What a fantastic idea! If your county doesn’t have 211 for cybersecurity yet, you can go to or direct others to the user-friendly website. It starts by asking if you’re a business or individual.

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Then it helps you narrow down the specific problem.

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If you select a cybercrime category, say Identity Theft, the site drills down to identify the specific type of crime.

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Once you have selected the specific crime, you get specific recommendations and additional resources.

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I can’t think of a better informational tool than CSN for the general public to which I can direct cybercrime victims. It’s not perfect. It needs more detail about specific steps people with a little technical understanding can take, but it’s only going to improve over time. Kudos to Judge, the Cybercrime Support Network and its employees. You’re helping to make the world a better place.


Roger A. Grimes is a contributing editor. Roger holds more than 40 computer certifications and has authored ten books on computer security. He has been fighting malware and malicious hackers since 1987, beginning with disassembling early DOS viruses. He specializes in protecting host computers from hackers and malware, and consults to companies from the Fortune 100 to small businesses. A frequent industry speaker and educator, Roger currently works for KnowBe4 as the Data-Driven Defense Evangelist and is the author of Cryptography Apocalypse.

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