Sitting in a hotel room in San Jose, California, I found my interest turn to the local NBC news broadcast when the anchor asked viewers if they thought they were safe wandering cyberspace.
Since I did not have my trusty pen and pad at the ready, I paraphrase here, but she teased viewers by saying something like, "Coming up, a government expert reveals that you might not be as secure as you think when surfing the Internet from home."
Being a journalist in this particular industry, I of course was spurred on to stay tuned. And, sure enough, shortly thereafter the glow of the television turned back to the local anchor, who explained that Richard Clarke, chair of the U.S. Critical Infrastructure Protection Board (CIPB), was at the University of California, Berkeley recently. Discussing why the nation's leaders are concerned about the safety of our government's (and commercial industry's) computers, Clarke explained that crackers and terrorists could inordinately impact or destroy our way of life by attacking our IT infrastructure. He noted the impact of attacks on our various computer-reliant systems could be devastating, affecting daily activities we take for granted.
However, he was quick to point out that the potential for such attacks doesn't verge on the decision of some terrorist group to take us down. Rather, any savvy crackers - regular citizens - could do such harmful things if they so desired. This is why, the anchor noted, the U.S. government is planning to spend some $4 billion on securing federal computer systems.
There has been a great deal of discussion among experts from the U.S. to China about the potential of such widespread and deadly cyberterrorist events since the Sept. 11 tragedy. And for good reason: the terrorists sucker-punched the U.S. in the real world with such fury, one can only wonder how they can resist not manipulating advancing technological tools to bring us to our knees in the cyber one.
The fact that U.S. leaders and, for that matter, other countries' leading officials, are making budgetary moves in the infosecurity direction is a good thing. Even better, is when governments make strides to team up with those in the corporate world who really have a handle on the infosecurity issues constantly undermining the Internet's usefulness. For instance in the U.S., the government has partnered with private sector companies to try to improve cybersecurity. Having recently created the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Stay Safe Online Campaign was announced earlier this month. As a means to educate Americans on the need for computer security and encourage computer users, whether at home or at work, the campaign is being covered from coast to coast.
"As key part of homeland defense is protecting every computer, including home users and small business. Citizens don't realize how much damage can be done by people using your computers remotely without your knowing it," said Clarke in a February news release on the Alliance. "This campaign will enlighten and empower consumers to take action."
Such private/government initiatives are really the only way to go to construct a strong united front on the web. This fact is not only being reflected upon in the fight against cyberterrorists, but also in the race to simply secure proprietary information constantly bounced across the Internet. Officials from various infosecurity vendors state that while the U.S. is woefully lacking in cash and resources, it is turning to the private vendors to understand the extent of the problem and get a better idea of what needs to be protected and in what ways.
After meeting with various government officials on Capitol Hill, Peggy Weigle, CEO of Sanctum, says that although the government does have its own challenges of funding, lack of resources and shortage of cybersecurity knowledge to overcome, officials there are showing an openness to understanding and implementing infosecurity protections that they never have before.
Indeed, it is wonderful to see the U.S. government and other countries' politicians make moves to not only better understand infosecurity, but to forge its sound and steadfast existence. It's just too sad that they, like many private companies before them, opted to react to a terrible situation as opposed to preparing for its inevitability.
Let's just hope shows like RSA, which I will be attending over the next week, will drive the notion of pre-planning home. And for those who don't know where to begin their plans, check out www.staysafeonline.info for some steps in the right direction.
Illena Armstrong is U.S. editor of SC Magazine (www.scmagazine.com).