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Cyber Preparedness Symposium Leaves Unanswered Questions

Effort to jump-start discussion between government, industry, and academia is clearly Version 1.0

WASHINGTON -- National Symposium on Unifying Cyber Preparedness Efforts -- Leaders of industry and academia today agreed that they need to work better together to prepare for cyber security threats. They just didn’t seem sure how to do it, or exactly what the threats are.

In a microcosm of the cross-industry, cross-disciplinary problems that it was called to help resolve, the symposium demonstrated a desire among some sectors to improve the security situation in the U.S., but few concrete ideas on how to coordinate the so-called “silos of excellence” that remain disconnected across the country.

Indeed, the panelists and participants showed little agreement on what “cyber preparedness” really means -- the half-day discussion meandered from defending against attacks on the nation’s government and infrastructure to resolving specific vulnerabilities on end-user PCs.

The symposium was called by Capitol College, a Laurel, Md., institution that is quietly building one of the country’s top IT security education programs. The discussion was joined by Paul Kurtz, partner and COO of Good Harbor Consulting LLC; Chris Rouland, CTO of IBM’s Internet Security Systems unit; and Haden Land, vice president, CTO and CIO of Lockheed Martin’s Enterprise Solutions and Services unit.

The idea was to discuss how government, industry, critical infrastructure providers, Congress, and academia can work together to build a cross-disciplinary effort to prepare for cyber threats. The Congressional representative, Rep. Steny Hoyer, was unable to attend, although a staff member accepted an award on his behalf. The director of the National Information Assurance Training and Education Center, who was scheduled to dial in by phone, never called in.

Representatives from PEPCO (DC’s power utility) and Verizon were in attendance, but they did not participate in the discussion. And although several of the panelists had impressive backgrounds in government security, there were no active federal or state government representatives on the panel.

A number of university and other academic participants did join the discussion, and the symposium seemed to be an effort by the academic community to jump-start a discussion among the disciplines.

“We’re simply stalled, as a nation, when it comes to cyber security,” said Vic Maconachy, the former head of the National Security Agency’s information assurance training program who is now vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at Capitol College. “We can no longer wait for somebody to take the lead.”

Maconachy called upon government, industry, and academia to pledge to get involved in the cyber security effort, and to identify the “silos of excellence” in cyber defense and help coordinate and coalesce them.

Kurtz, who has served with partner Richard Clarke in several high positions in White House and Homeland Security councils, warned of recent attacks on government systems and called on federal agencies to disclose what they have learned about cyber threats and help private industry build its defenses with the information.

The most effective national cyber defense system may not be centralized, Kurtz suggested. “It’s harder to attack an organization that doesn’t have a definable head. It may make more sense to form cells around groups that have a common interest, rather than have a centralized defense that’s controlled by a single government entity.”

A cyber preparedness program should account not only for current threats, but future threats as well, Kurtz warned. “Today, the big concern is data loss,” he said. “Tomorrow, we’ll be worried about data manipulation -- not theft or damage of data, but subtle changes that could have a major impact on how systems, defenses, or organizations work.”

After Kurtz finished his keynote, however, the symposium’s discussion seemed to wander. University officials asked about educational efforts; technologists asked about the evolution of security tools. Rouland and Land did their best to field questions from a wide range of interests, most of which had little to do with large-scale attacks on U.S. interests or infrastructure.

Maconachy invited the parties to use the academic environment as a neutral ground for cross-disciplinary discussion, and suggested that future symposia be held. Attendees did not immediately indicate whether they would participate.

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    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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