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Hundreds Attend USF Accounting Circle Conference, Hear About Leadership, Cybersecurity, Industry Trends

By Keith Morelli

Speaker and audience

TAMPA (May 18, 2017) -- What do accountants and Navy SEALs have in common? Most would say not much. Accountants sit in safe, climate-controlled offices in front of computers full of numbers. SEALs generally spend thousands of hours in grueling training suffering through all kinds of weather for the chance to take part in a mission that involves all-out warfare.

But there are similarities that lie below the surface, said retired Navy Capt. Tom Chaby, who served as an active duty U.S. Navy SEAL for 26 years and who was the keynote speaker at the University of South Florida's Accounting Circle Conference last week. More than 500 accountants and managers registered to attend the two-day conference that began Thursday. The purpose: to fulfill the continuing professional education requirements to maintain their Certified Public Accountant license.

"We are excited to continue and grow our long-standing partnership with the Accounting Circle in offering this conference for the benefit of CPAs in the Tampa Bay area," said Uday Murthy, director of the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy. "This conference is a prime example of the way in which we engage with the local community of accounting professionals not only to provide a valuable service but also to raise funds for student scholarships."

The conference offered accounting professionals the chance to keep up to date on industry trends. Attendees filled the Marshall Student Center's Oval Theater to hear Chaby, who currently develops program for EXOS, a company that trains individuals to reach their highest potential, and 18 others talk about leadership, cybersecurity and, of course, the business of numbers.

Chaby, who spent 12 years on tours in over 70 countries, including war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq, said running a military task force is a lot like managing a business. Managers, like military commanders, have to motivate workers, make them feel relevant and get them to buy into the mission to be successful.

"It is our job," Chaby said, "to look for every opportunity to maximize effectiveness."

He talked about development of leadership skills and how to motivate and to recognize what makes people, be they warriors or accountants, want to shine.

It can be money, material things and prestige. It can be competition with outside elements or competition with oneself. The most valuable employees are "empowerers," he said, those who strive for excellence "and make everyone around them better."

The conference's speakers, mostly touched on topics relevant to the accounting profession. One included the emerging threat of cyber attacks. Supervisory Special Agent Paul Vitchock, who has been with the FBI for 14 years, talked about the different types of hackers out there and what they are after.

Accountants should be particularly wary, he said, because they are dealing with money and often money is the motivating factor behind hacking.

One category of hacking is called insider threats, he said, and insiders may target not only transfers of cash, but also proprietary information that can be valuable to competitors. Other types of hackers include those who hack for a political or social cause, criminals who do it for money, there are those motivated by espionage, terrorism and warfare.

Cyberattacks give power to individuals who don't have implements of war or who can't impose sanctions or take action in ways that governments can. All a hacker needs is a computer and he or she can project power from anywhere.

Cybercrime is not going away. In fact, he said, it's growing. Estimates say cyber criminals steal $600 billion every year, he said, and that's a conservative estimate.

"According to industry reporting, it's more lucrative than the drug trade," he said. Authorities say cyber hacking hits 12 victims a second. And two out of three times, those victims become aware of it only when a law enforcement official notifies them.

It's a field where the black-hat hackers pose significant challenges to those responsible for information security. They pilfer information from individuals or businesses on a global scale. Vitchock cited the ransomware cyber attack earlier this month that hit health-care facilities in the United Kingdom, transportation systems in Germany and other government and private institutions in China, Russia and India.

The far reaching effects of cybercrime can be a problem for accounting firms, he said, and making sure systems are hack-proof is not easy, he said.

"I can't tell you right now if the stuff you're transmitting back and forth to your office is secure, it is not as simple as just looking," he said. Precautions, like installing patches and anti-virus software, are required. "If you are not installing patches and using anti-virus software," he said, "it is highly likely you will be hacked."

Vitchock has worked computer intrusion investigations in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., managed the FBI Eurasian Organized Cyber Crime program at the FBI headquarters and most recently, served as the FBI Cyber Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. He currently manages the FBI Cyber Squad in Tampa and Orlando which includes criminal and national security investigations.

The conference ended Friday. Proceeds from the annual event benefit students, faculty and programs at the Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy at the Muma College of Business. Typically, the conference provides more than $90,000 in scholarships and other support.