The United States is engaged in a quiet but potentially devastating intelligence, cyber and information war, with the greatest threats to national security coming from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
That was the topic of a webinar on “Confronting Current and Future Cybersecurity Threats,” hosted Wednesday by Arizona State University’s Center on the Future of War.
“As you think about what computers have evolved to these days, they’ve gotten so much more entwined in everything we do — whether it’s the information on our computer desktop all the way out to the military’s weapons,” said Rob Joyce, director of the U.S. National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate.
Part of the mission of the agency is to partner with allies, private industry and academics to strengthen awareness and collaboration, and advance the state of cybersecurity.
Joyce was joined by retired Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, professor of practice in the Center on the Future of War and School of Politics and Global Studies, and Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies and co-director of the Center on the Future of War.
Rosenberg asked if a devastating and fundamentally destabilizing cyberattack is imminent and inevitable in American society.
“Yeah it is,” said Joyce, citing the 2021 ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which was caused by one compromised password that led to major fuel shortages.
“So, it is not unimaginable.”
A cyberattack on the U.S. government would be far-reaching, going beyond its official web of networks to thousands of partner companies, defense contractors, subcontractors and more.
According to Joyce, the ecosystem consists of 30,000 cleared companies that work as subcontractors and 300,000 companies that feed into the defense department. It is an enormous amount of tech surface that adversaries can get into in order to steal information, manipulate data and more.
“So we were frankly seeing a lot of stuff lost in that ecosystem,” Joyce said.
Joyce said that anything from civic governments to companies that are assaulted are a national security issue. Hospitals, schools and manufacturing plants are all driven and dependent on computers.
“Criminals understand that If you have something that people depend on, they can exploit it,” Joyce said.
The NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center works with industry partners to prevent and eliminate foreign cyber threats.
Joyce explained there are ongoing offensive and defensive efforts to comprehend and combat cyber threats — exploiting the enemy’s web system while at the same time trying to keep them out of U.S. networks.
Finding out the enemy’s secrets puts the U.S. on the path to security, he said.
What do adversaries know or intend to do against those military communication systems? And what are the adversaries doing to get our classified communications? These are questions the NSA must ask, Joyce said.
“You know, it takes a thief to catch a thief,” Joyce said. “So when you work on both sides of this … you get a better appreciation for the practical things the adversary will do to win, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Schmidle asked what people could do to protect their personal computers from attacks.
Joyce said the number one thing to do is install updates as soon as they come out and have a solid password management system. Security that is breached on one site can be an entry point to all personal information.
“Criminals are going around, and they’re rattling the doorknobs,” Joyce said.
“It’s the equivalent of a criminal finding a car that’s unlocked and just taking whatever they find inside. If you lock your car, you’re safe.”
Joyce said that there is a real need to be vigilant in improving the technology but, “it is not going to be any one entity that solves the problem.”
It’s not just regulation, or collaboration between government and private industry, or international coalitions or laws that are the answer, he said.
“But it’s going to be a bit of all of that.”
Top photo courtesy iStock
Reporter , ASU News
The National Science Foundation has renewed a $2.5 million grant over the next two years for the the Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities (WAESO) program. Headquartered at Arizona State University, WAESO works to increase enrollment in STEM disciplines for historically underrepresented students.The WAESO Alliance was one of the first projects sponsored by the NSF’s Louis Stokes Allia…
The National Science Foundation has renewed a $2.5 million grant over the next two years for the the Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities (WAESO) program. Headquartered at Arizona State University, WAESO works to increase enrollment in STEM disciplines for historically underrepresented students.
The WAESO Alliance was one of the first projects sponsored by the NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and includes 13 institutions across Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
As the lead university of the program, ASU supports these colleges and universities to promote diversity in STEM, enhance research collaborations and student experiences across institutions. Jean Andino has directed WAESO on behalf of ASU since 2019 and was involved in LSAMP since 2006.
Andino, who is also an associate professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a senior global futures scholar in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, says WAESO’s goals are accomplished primarily through intensive research experiences and mentoring from STEM faculty, peer mentoring activities, summer bridge programs and virtual workshops that culminate in an annual meeting held at ASU.
Topics range from how to have an entrepreneurial mindset and innovative research tactics to how to apply to graduate school. According to Andino, this is paramount among all WAESO participants.
“Although this support is offered at ASU, the grant helps us to involve all of our partner schools,” she says. “This is a much-needed activity since many of the WAESO students that we serve don’t think about higher education beyond their undergraduate degree.”
Andino teaches a variety of environmental engineering courses and is an expert in air quality research, and is grateful for the several new components that will be added and enhanced as a part of the grant renewal. A few of these additions include more resources toward analyzing the efficacy of multicontext theory within WAESO training; cross-institutional research to enhance student transitions from the community college to four-year colleges; and peer mentoring among Native American students.
“Since Native American students are still vastly underrepresented in STEM, a goal is to develop a more effective, culturally responsive mentoring approach for these students, that we also hope to transition to other underrepresented or underserved populations,” Andino says.
Andino says another critical component to the WAESO project is to introduce a more formal study of the multicontext theory to the program. Multicontext theory (MCT) is the understanding that people have many facets in their lives that intersect or overlap with each other.
“Our social science team has shown MCT to be useful in empowering diverse individuals in STEM, as well as altering institutional approaches in teaching, hiring and administration,” she says. “Our goal will be to intentionally activate MCT in research and to show people how to do this.”
Andino says that by studying multicontext theory, focusing on career development and enhancing mentorship programs to WAESO, ASU continues to position itself as a leader in institutional research, innovation and inclusivity across STEM disciplines.
“The grant helps us to promote collaboration and convergence in research in a way that highlights and activates diversity as a resource,” she said. “It simultaneously uplifts the next generation of diverse STEM students.”
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