One of the nation’s leading cybersecurity experts warned an audience gathered at the annual Florida Center for Cybersecurity conference Tuesday that the onslaught of hacker attacks against the government, business and individuals is only going to accelerate in the coming years without some aggressive countermeasures.
“It is not going to stop” warned Gen. Keith Alexander, the former head of U.S. Cyber Command and past director of the National Security Agency, in keynote remarks at the University of South Florida.
That was the theme in a wide range of breakout sessions held to explore the dangerously escalating pace of hacker intrusions. Alexander acknowledged no security is foolproof, but he urged attendees from business, technology firms, the military and students pursuing the new USF master’s degree in cybersecurity that strong security that can turn back 90 percent of hacker attempts can protect proprietary data and discourage further attacks.
Major newspapers seem to be full of stories lately on the rising barrage of hacks. The Wall Street Journalreported in recent days that cyberwar will become a mainstream battlefield fought by more and more nations. Yet the newspaper’s parent, Dow Jones, found itself informing its customers that it, too, was recently hacked and as many as 3,500 customer credit cards may have been compromised.
The hacker threat is deep and wide, experts said. Florida Center for Cybersecurity managing director Sri Sridharan cited the case of a man in need of insulin whose portable device to handle that was hacked, causing a life-threatening situation. Sridharan said the country faces an exploding need for cybersecurity talent. His center, which represents the network of all Florida public universities, had anticipated 100 students pursuing a master’s degree, but instead has 300.
Is this a case of national overkill? In recent days, Purdue and the University of Arkansas have each unveiled cybersecurity centers while San Diego announced a Center of Excellence in the field.
Sridharan says he is thrilled so much is happening, though he predicts a winnowing of the number of cybersecurity pursuits in time.
In his keynote remarks, Alexander suggested some hacker attacks against companies could be better handled if they share the breech at network speed with the federal government, which in turn could respond in a unified way to the attack.
Pending congressional legislation that could pressure private business to tighten their computer security measures, Alexander’s comments of linking federal cybersecurity measures to commercial company information technology systems raised plenty of eyebrows Tuesday.
Sridharan suggested the remarks were compressed and were not as draconian as they might have appeared.
That said, the conference message is the national cybersecurity response is in need of a sharp upgrade. Quickly.