Interview With Scott Schober – Berkeley Varitronics Systems
PIA spoke with Scott Schober, CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, about his background in cybersecurity, what he learned after becoming the target of persistent cyberattacks, and what are some of the worst cyberthreats around. Mr Schober also talked about his role in the family business, and what changes he made to diversify the products they offer. We refer to BVS as living at the crossroads between wireless security and cyber security.
Private Internet Access: What motivated you to start Berkeley Varitronics Systems?
Scott Schober: Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc. (BVS) is actually celebrating our 50th anniversary in business this year. I was just learning to walk when the company was founded by my father, Gary W. Schober. He has since retired but I am currently the President and CEO of BVS along with my brother, Craig W. Schober, our Creative Director playing an integral role in developing the look and feel of our products, videos, website and more.
We are proud to be running a family 2nd generation family business and celebrating our 50th year. Over the past five decades we have learned the importance of hard work, a diversified product offering and focusing on niche, but important areas.
Over the past 20 years, I have pivoted the company away from designing and building wireless test tools and more towards a focus on wireless security solutions. We refer to BVS as living at the crossroads between wireless security and cyber security. We continue to sell wireless testing systems used to set up cell towers around the world to wireless carriers, but most of our recent growth has been in wireless threat detection tools we sell to cyber security US DoD agencies. These agencies require offices, board rooms, and conference rooms to be secure from wireless threats including cell phones and personal electronic devices that operate on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Our products are used to detect and locate these offending wireless devices. We also have made a name for ourselves throughout the prison sector where our handheld cell phone detection tools rid the prisons of dangerous, contraband cell phones used by inmates. BVS also lives in the wireless safety space by supporting over 25,000 locomotives used throughout the United States and Canada that need to enforce a no cell phone policy. The Federal Rail Authority requires that all locomotive cabs be monitored so operators do not use their cell phones as this can be a dangerous distraction for any railway or mining operator.
PIA: I see you’ve written three bestselling security books, what drew you to cybersecurity and how did you become a leading expert in the field? Are you working on another book?
SS: In the process of delivering thousands of wireless test products, we learned a lot about mobile phones, how they work, and all of their security vulnerabilities as well. Cyber criminals exploit these vulnerabilities to steal personal information, money, and data. But the more I learned and shared with others, the more I had a target on my back for cyber criminals who wanted to send me a message. I had my credit card, debit card and Twitter account hacked. This was followed by repeated DDoS attacks to our company website preventing us from booking orders. Finally the cyber criminals hacked into our bank account and stole $65,000 resulting in a large federal investigation.
Eventually, I got all the stolen money back and learned a lot of things that I could do better. When I shared my story with other small business owners, they all encouraged me to write a book. That began the journey of writing ‘Hacked Again’ where I tell my personal story of what happened, what I learned, and share tips to help others so they don’t become victims like me. Hacked Again became a best-seller so I immediately re-teamed with my brother Craig (business partner and co-author) to write ‘Cybersecurity is Everybody’s Business’ to help small business owners fight back against cyber criminals.
This 2nd book also became a best-seller and led to many live presentations at major cybersecurity events. I soon noticed that many cyber criminals were targeting seniors and the elderly so I set out to wrote a 3rd book. In my research, I could not find any books specifically talking to a senior audience so I began ‘Senior Cyber’. This new book quickly rose in the rankings so and I found myself again speaking to an older generation that desperately needed tips and support.
PIA: Let’s talk about your company, Berkeley Varitronics Systems, talk about what it does and your flagship product?
SS: BVS has a proud history of taking complex concepts and turning them into finished products. We design, code, manufacture and support dozens of products all under one roof located in Metuchen, NJ. Our capabilities include a deep understanding of the wireless protocols, software, firmware development, hardware design, mechanical design, machining, assembly, testing and calibration to a shipping product. Many products have our name on them, but sometimes we will white label and design and build a product with our customer’s name on it.
One of our flagship products is TransitHound. We introduced this product to the rail industry over ten years ago and now are found on 25,000 locomotives throughout the US and Canada.
Another flagship product is the Wolfhound-Pro cell phone detector. We have sold thousands of these and they are used globally for not just security but also for search and rescue operations. Last year, a Wolfhound-Pro was instrumental in saving a life of someone trapped in an avalanche in the French alps. Rescue works and rescue dogs could not find the trapped individual but the Wolfhound-Pro honed in on his mobile phone alerting rescue workers to a remote area 2.5 meters under packed snow. The media praised the product calling it a miracle rescue tool.
PIA: Who is your target consumer? Is it individuals, business enterprises, or both?
SS: We have a large, diverse customer base so our target customer is vastly different for each product. Overall we sell mostly to railways, law enforcement, US DoD facilities, Private Investigators, TSCM (Technical Surveillance Counter Measures), Electric Vehicle charger installers, and wireless carriers.
PIA: Speaking of cybersecurity tools, why do businesses and individuals need a VPN?
SS: VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) protect users data by encrypting it. VPNs also enable a level of anonymity by relaying traffic around the globe. It is important for users to keep their IP addresses private from unnecessary surveillance as well as their browsing habits hidden. It is important to select a VPN that does not track your viewing habits and does not keep a usage log. VPNs are affordable and easy to use, but all computer users need to be aware of their digital footprint and the mass collection of our data and metadata. I am so passionate about privacy I have started a fourth book that will discuss privacy and some things we can do to keep our lives private in a world where all our data is up for sale.
PIA: What are some of the most dangerous cyberthreats, and how can the average person protect themselves?
SS: In 2022, the most dangerous standout in my mind is ransomware. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, there is a ransomware attack every 11 seconds in the United States alone. Cybercriminals have been successfully launching advanced ransomware campaigns by sending out millions of phishing emails everyday to unsuspecting users who innocently take the bait and do not realize they have not backed up their data securely until it’s too late.
PIA: As we look back on the past few years, how did the pandemic change the cybersecurity area, if at all?
SS: Almost overnight, a huge portion of the workforce has shifted to remote or hybrid working from a home office. As a result, employees are using their home computers, notebooks and smartphones to remotely access the networks of billion dollar companies. Many do not implement multi-factor authentication which is an important layer of security and often overlooked. Home Wi-fi networks contain inherent vulnerabilities along with a lack of cyber hygiene by employees working from home and sometimes sharing computers with their family. Employees who didn’t already have a good backup routine, or didn’t implement secure passwords or network settings felt the worst of the attacks during the pandemic.
Cybercriminals now had a clear path to gain entry into a company network system through the employees and their poorly secure home network. This enabled hackers to launch extensive ransomware campaigns and distribute malware such as key loggers used to steal personal information and login credentials.
We are starting to see the fallout from this pandemic with cyber breaches affecting every industry including schools, small businesses and critical infrastructure as well as average consumers just using their computers.
PIA: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
SS: Nothing is 100% secure in the world of cybersecurity, but I have learned that if we implement best practices and focus on improving our cyber hygiene, we can stay reasonably safe from cyber criminals. It does not necessarily cost a lot of money, but rather takes dedication and patience to think like a cyber criminal to stay one step ahead and keep our personal information safe.