Melissa Hathaway Op-Ed on Cyber Security

January 12, 2009
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Below I’m going to post, in its entirety, the text of an e-mail I received from the ODNI notification service.   The subject is an op-ed written by Melissa Hathaway, a senior leader who has been spearheading significant coordination action in…

Below I'm going to post, in its entirety, the text of an e-mail I received from the ODNI notification service.   The subject is an op-ed written by Melissa Hathaway, a senior leader who has been spearheading significant coordination action in the federal government (opinion: Melissa is perhaps the most effective SES-level leader in the US government today, IMHO).

I wanted to post this in totality for a couple reasons.  One is it is something all of us should read.  Although I believe most readers of this blog will find no surprises in this op-ed, Melissa has a real talent for capturing information in easy to understand ways and I think we can all borrow lessons from the way she explains things. 

Another reason to read this is to take a queue from Melissa on what else is needed in this space.  I've known Melissa long enough to say that what ever she supports I support.  She says the nation needs many things to be worked in this area, including more work in alliances and partnering, re-thinking relationships between government and the private sector regarding cyber security, enhancing ways to share sensitive info with industry.  

She also calls for a continuing public commitment to securing cyberspace.  I'm certainly with her on that one.   And I hope all our public officials are too.  

Here is the Op-Ed:

Melissa Hathaway Op-Ed on Cyber Security


The following Op-Ed by Melissa Hathaway,
Cyber Coordination Executive for the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence, was published by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service on
Wednesday, October 8, 2008:

Safeguarding our cyber borders

By Melissa Hathaway ??? Op-Ed ??? McClatchy-Tribune News Service

London shoppers who bought groceries with bankcards over the last two years paid a higher price than they bargained for.

Cyber
thieves had implanted unauthorized circuitry in keypads sold to
supermarkets in the Barking and Dagenham area of the British capital.
The corrupted keypads were then used to capture account information and
Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). The data were siphoned off and
used to skim from or in some cases empty shoppers' bank accounts.

The thieves covered their tracks by encrypting the
numbers they stole, then storing them on a computer server abroad. It
took more than a year for the authorities to catch on.

Stories such as that aren't only sobering news for
consumers. For folks charged with securing and protecting the nation's
defense and intelligence infrastructure, however, increasingly
sophisticated cyber assaults are a chilling — and increasingly
familiar — challenge.

The same devices that thieves use to sneak into bank
accounts, the same techniques that hackers use to disrupt Internet
service or alter a digital profile, are being used by foreign military
and spy services to besiege information systems that are vital to our
nation's defense.

Because defense and other national security contractors
share data and systems with their government partners, an attack on one
can be an attack on many. Plans are only as secure as the weakest link
in the information chain. These days, those links are being tested as
never before.

The attackers' goals fall into three categories:

???
Information theft. Stealing data from a target personal device, system
or network is the most common threat. For example, a disgruntled Boeing
employee was charged last year with lifting more than 320,000 sensitive
company files by using a thumb drive to tap the corporate system.
Boeing estimated that the stolen documents would have cost it between
$5 billion and $15 billion in lost revenue had they been given to
competitors.

??? Information disruption. Hackers who sneak into
government systems and alter crucial operating data are a growing
concern. In 2006, a disgruntled Navy contractor inserted malicious code
into five computers at the Navy's European Planning and Operations
Command in Naples, Italy. Two computers were rendered inoperable when
the program was executed. Had the other three computers been knocked
offline, the network that tracks U.S. and NATO ships in the
Mediterranean Sea and helps prevent military and commercial vessels
from colliding would have been shut down.

??? Information denial. Cases in which private or
government computer systems are shut down by floods of automated hits
are also on the rise. In April 2007, Russian nationalists used such a
''distributed denial of service'' attack to block access to the
networks of the Estonian parliament, the president's office and many of
that country's banks, news organizations and Internet service
providers.

The ''What Ifs'' are an even greater concern. Could an
adversary insert erroneous data that would cause weapons, early warning
systems and other elements of national security to fail at critical
times? What if financial or medical records were altered, or rail or
air traffic control systems were corrupted? What if malicious code were
secretly installed during the manufacture or shipping of computer
equipment, to be activated at some future date? How would we even know
what threats we face?

Defensive measures are being taken. In January,
President Bush proposed a 12-point Comprehensive National Cybersecurity
Initiative whose solutions range from a public awareness campaign to
sophisticated new systems for identifying and deterring intrusions.
Congress approved funding in late September.

A key element of the plan — reducing the number of
access points between federal agencies and external computer networks
— is under way. The federal government has closed about 3,500 such
access points this year, leaving about 1,000 still open. The goal is to
reduce the final number to fewer than 100.

Much more needs to be done, however.

We
need stronger international alliances to share the responsibility for
securing cyberspace. We must do more to convince our allies and
strategic partners of the benefits to them of taking an active role.

We also need a fundamental re-thinking of our
government's traditional relationship with the private sector. A high
percentage of our critical information infrastructure is privately
owned, and industry needs to know what government knows about our
adversaries' targets and, to the extent we understand them, their
methods of operation.

When it comes to cyber security, government and the
private sector need to recognize that an individual vulnerability is a
common weakness.

There's time, though not unlimited time, to get the job
done. We must make a continuing public commitment to securing cyber
space — and we must do so now.


Melissa Hathaway is the cyber coordination executive
for the director of national intelligence. The Department of Homeland
Security has designated October National Cyber Security Awareness
Month. 

For related posts on this topic see:  http://www.ctovision.com/cyber_initiative/

 

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