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Cyber security: why it matters

Cyber security: why it matters

It is not a threat of the future. It is an actuality.” –Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, from a speech at the Global Cyber Security Conference held in Washington D.C.

I think we all know that “cyber security” is big deal – but especially in trucking, More and more these days, basic information such as bills of lading, customs paperwork, and other data is being converted into electronic formats and delivered via the pathways of the Internet.

Many times, this conversion to electronic formats is demanded, almost mandated, in business today – which is why the huge growth in cyber crime should be worrisome to truckers.

The sheer scale of cyber crime these days should raise a lot of hackles as well – for both corporations and individuals alike. Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), detailed one such cyber crime that occurred in 2008 during a recent speech at a cyber security conference here in Washington D.C.; one that required the U.S. Secret Service to crack.


“Indeed, it was just about a year ago today that criminal charges came from a Secret Service investigation into the theft and sale of 40 million credit card numbers by an international group of cyber criminals – and that case, I believe, was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage that cyber crime can entail,” she explained in her remarks.

More worrisome to her is that the “white hats” in government – the good guys – are often way, way behind the “black hats” in terms of understanding and using technology effectively. “We have to acknowledge amongst ourselves that in terms of cyber security we've been living in a cyber 1.0 world and we need to be cyber 3.0 and beyond,” Napolitano stressed. “Because the minute we start talking about a particular methodology of cyber the cyber bad guys are already moving ahead. This is a very, very rapidly evolving environment in which real crime and real damage can occur.”

That’s one reason why much of the fight against cyber crime is now being directed by the Secret Service, she said. “The reason the Secret Service is in there evolves from their historical jurisdiction; protecting the security of our currency and our banking institutions—and, of course, financial institutions are one of the prime targets of cyber threats,” Napolitano noted. “So, from that historical antecedent—which goes back to the 18th century—we now have the Secret Service being the lead agency on cyber crime throughout the federal government and in DHS.”

But cyber crime is a global problem which is one reason the U.S. government is involved with the International Watch and Warning Network [IWWN], which includes 15 countries. “Cyber [crime] knows no national boundaries. It knows no nation or state organization. More importantly, it is not organized the way we are organized,” Napolitano pointed out. “We are organized in nice categories, and even in an international environment we are organized in these kind of international organizations—none of which fits the cyber world.”

That’s why, to her mind, it is so important to recognize why cyber crime can be so dangerous – because, like terrorism (albeit without its visceral blood and horror) there is no international structure where cyber crime and especially where cyber security is concerned.

“That is part of where we need to go,” Napolitano stressed. “We need to confront how we really engage our partners. How are we going to share intelligence from the government to the private sector and back in real time, so that it's useful? How will we work together on a day-to-day basis? How are we going to grow, recruit and retain cyber experts and cyber cops? In other words, where are the personnel going to come from who are going to help us in this effort—and that's particularly important, because in the cyber world, there is such an easy flow within the private sector.”


This all goes to the heart of the battle against cyber crime, she noted: How do we, as a nation, build a reservoir of the top minds required to keep ahead of the bad guys? To get creative and think not just of what they've done, but what they're going to do next and next and next?

“How do we share those ideas so that we are not chronically playing catch-up where the cyber field is concerned” she asked. “How do we stay aware and share information about developing threats in the cyber world? How can we continually be more innovative than our enemies would have us be? For those of you who are in academia—how can we fully involve the research and development efforts that you are undertaking in the cyber security efforts that we are making?”

All the different strata of government that touches on cyber security – from the military to transportation, banking, energy, etc. – complicates the effort to effectively focus on cyber crime at times. Even more critical, in Napolitano’s view, is how to engage not just the private sector in the cyber battle but the American people – building an understanding of just how serious the cyber threat is.

“The critical issue here is not just for the big players – the entire private sector – but every business in the U.S., large or small, and every home that has a computer in it – which is, as you know, an increasing number of our homes,” Napolitano said in her remarks. “They are now part and parcel of who could be attacked; and our challenge is how we protect ourselves before such an attack occurs.”

Definitely not an easy problem to get one’s arms around, but considering how extensively trucking relies on the cyber world to conduct even basic business transactions, it’s a threat that must be more and more closely watched in the days ahead.