RALEIGH – In just one year, North Carolina jumped from 21st to fifth place in the nation for internet crime, raking up close to $137 million in losses.

According to Timothy M. Stranahan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, assistant special agent in charge in Charlotte Field Office, that’s scary.

“We should be sounding the alarm bell,” he told WRAL TechWire, ahead of his scheduled talk at NC TECH’s State of Technology Conference today.

With this year’s theme focused on cyber security, he wanted to use this platform to emphasize the growing threat before the 600-strong crowd gathered at at the Raleigh Convention Center.

The 600-strong crowd gathered for NC TECHs State of Technology Conference at the Raleigh Convention Center.

So why is North Carolina being targeted at such a high rate?

“We are innovative. We have a lot of great minds here. You can see it all throughout this conference. There are a lot of companies here in North Carolina creating tomorrow’s technology today. The bad guys know that, and they’re targeting us.”

And despite growing efforts to guard against such attacks, perpetrators continue to be successful.

“We don’t talk about who has been victimized. That’s something that we hold very closely,” Stranahan said. “But I will say that we’ve had some companies in North Carolina that have loss some substantial intellectual property, and people that have had substantial financial losses.”

He stressed the FBI has team of cyber experts in every corner of the state partnering with the major companies.

However, the real challenge is educating smaller startups on the threat landscape.

“A lot of these companies don’t have the infrastructure to protect themselves. They understand the threat a little bit. I’m finding them, talking to them and insuring that they have our contact information,” he said.

The answer for startups, outsourcing cybersecurity?

Jennifer Minella, a cybersecurity expert, was among those in attendance.

She said she recognizes the growing threat to smaller startups. As such, her company, Carolina Advanced Digital, is rolling out managed security services to smaller companies this year.

“That’s the model most of them are moving to. I think that’s the only choice [for startups],” said Minella, who serves as vice president of Engineering. “When you look at a cybersecurity professional on the market right now, you’re talking about someone with six figures going in typically. For a small company, that’s not sustainable.”

But startups also cannot afford not to invest in cybersecurity.

“If a small company is hit with fines, or they’re hit with an attack that’s catastrophic from a data perspective, it could put them out of business.”

Bottom line: “Even for a small business, it’s smart to understand where are the risks, and how do we get the right skills or services to fill that gap,” she said.