Tech Impact's Francis Johnson wants cybersecurity to be a top priority for nonprofits - Technical.ly Philly

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Tech Impact’s Francis Johnson wants cybersecurity to be a top priority for nonprofits

The IT services org's managing director of tech services has a fellowship to make sure nonprofits' networks are secure, especially amid ongoing remote work. Here's why he says that's so crucial.

Tech Impact's Francis Johnson.

(Courtesy photo)

Growing up in The Gambia, Tech Impact Managing Director of Tech Services Francis Johnson was more into sports than computers. But when his dad brought home a new laptop to use for work, like many young people who grew up to become technologists, Johnson was intrigued by the hardware, and the floppy disks it used.

“It was a part of my adolescence,” he told Technical.ly. “Having access to computers, labs and teachers that could teach us what devices were about [was important].”

Johnson began to work more with the technology at his school and later joined its computer club. In 2003, he moved to the United States to attend Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia and earned his degree in computer science. While he appreciated coding, he found that he wanted to use his skills in a different way.

“I did a system administration class, learned Linux, and did a lot of Linux in my last year,” he said. “I did less theory and more practical [work]. That really translated into my next step after college. If I kept doing coding I don’t know where I would have been. In my class, a lot of folks liked coding. [For me], it would have been intense and boring.”

Having solid relationships with his college professors with whom he could discuss his professional future helped. His path eventually led him to the field within technology that’s piqued his interest most: cybersecurity.

Security has always been a part of working in tech, but the need has grown as criminals and bad actors become more sophisticated — especially in the past year, as pandemic-time cyber attacks against businesses have risen. Methods like two-factor authentication have become a standard in keeping them at bay, Johnson said.

With many professionals working remotely because of the pandemic, the need for secure companywide systems is at an all-time high.

In April, Johnson was named a Nonprofit Technology Fellow of the Okta for Good Nonprofit Technology Initiative for his cybersecurity advocacy work through Tech Impact, a tech training organization that also provides IT services to nonprofits. These mission-driven orgs notoriously have fewer resources, financial or otherwise, to upgrade their systems.

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“It was hard to explain getting a good [security] system and protecting it,” he said. “It could be inconvenient, but we want to protect funders, intellectual property and the people being served. Getting them to an optimal system they could run on was the battle with the digital transformation piece.”

For Johnson, finding ways to educate and support organizations’ employees and members on the value of secure information and data systems — and helping them shift to cloud management, for instance — is a critical part of maintaining a high level cybersecurity in the nonprofit sector. With many professionals working remotely because of the pandemic, the need for secure companywide systems is at an all-time high.

“The pandemic has shown that all the things we’re talking about [like] moving to the cloud is great, but now we have to protect it,” he said. “There’s always been tools like antivirus software. The pieces I want to hone in on are the people. Focusing on people in your organizations and the people you serve [matters]. All the people you interact with could be an entry way” for risk.

Johnson anticipates that while professionals will return to their offices by the end of the year, a hybrid model of working is here to stay.

“It’s going to happen at the end of this year, but if you truly want to go back, understand what going back means,” he said. “Right now, a lot of people thought their staff couldn’t work remotely and know it can work now. The need for a hybrid workforce will be around forever.”

Accordingly, the need for cybersecurity will only continue to increase, Johnson said. Before, protecting the system within an office was the only objective. But with remote work becoming a norm, networks extend beyond offices and across states or counties: “The perimeter has changed.”

No matter where employees work from as the pandemic hopefully subsides, Johnson said one thing is clear: Companies and organizations need a full buy-in to stop cybersecurity threats.

“Working from home [must happen] in a responsible way,” he said. “Even though you’re working from home, it’s your internet. The connection to the data still has to be protected and for whatever you’re doing from an organizational perspective, we have to protect that.”


Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-
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