Securing cyber world is national priority

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 12, 2011 – Improvements in technology that have made our lives easier have also brought with them increased risk and security threats from the cyber world.

Four-star Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, discussed computer network security during a Cybersecurity symposium at the University of Rhode Island’s Carothers Library Monday. Alexander called cyber security “one of the most important issues facing our nation today.”

As the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service, Alexander is responsible for operations and defense of Department of Defense computer networks and as the director he is responsible for the DOD agency with national foreign intelligence, combat support, and U.S. national security information system protection.

Alexander stressed the importance of the United States getting out in front of issues surrounding cyber security.

“We’re the nation that built the Internet,” Alexander said. “We’re the nation that built most of the tools. We ought to be the leaders in securing that space.”

Alexander has worked closely with U.S. Representative James Langevin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on the issue. Langevin is a member of the U.S. House Armed Services committee, and as co-chair of the Cybersecurity Caucus, he has made protecting our national and economic security from cyber threats a top priority.

Langevin said the growing reliance of most Americans on cyberspace for critical services has left us increasingly vulnerable to threats.

“These threats include targeting our critical infrastructure, exposing citizens to identity theft and attacking the systems which protect our sensitive, classified information,” Langevin said. “This situation is made even more difficult by the fact that these already challenging, complex threats are growing in dynamic ways, making it nearly impossible for us to stay ahead of the thousands of new attacks on our vulnerabilities that are discovered literally every day.”

Langevin pointed out that everything from online banking to social networking increases our exposure to threat. With Internet users getting younger and younger, understanding the threats has become even more difficult.

“I recently attended an assembly of 230 eighth graders in Johnston, I asked them how many of them had a Facebook page, and almost every hand in the room went up,” Langevin said. “Because of this shift in our society, serious new vulnerabilities have evolved.”

He pointed out that in 2010 alone, researchers recorded 662 breaches at large companies or federal agencies that left exposed more than 16.2 millions records. The data allowed cyber criminals to prey on citizens and companies with some estimates putting the cost of cyber threats to the U.S. economy at approximately $8 billion annually.

“These threats don’t just come from cyber criminals,” Langevin said. “It is estimated that there are 1.8 billion attacks on our government servers every month.”

According to Whitehouse, more than nine million Americans have their identity stolen each year, and cyber crime costs American businesses with 500 or more employees nearly $4 million per year each.

“I contend that we are on the losing end of the biggest transfer of wealth in history as the result of theft and piracy,” Whitehouse said.

With the national leadership on the issue coming in state from Langevin and Whitehouse, URI President David Dooley called for higher education to do its part to help.

“We have, collectively, a number of challenges to overcome,” Dooley said. “If we are to build the kind of security that I think we need, and that our people deserve, I think times like these call, more than any other time or set of circumstances, for collaboration, cooperation and participation across the sectors of government, education and business.

“What we see today is that commitment exists here in Rhode Island.”