Wanted: A Smokey Bear for cybersecurity

Public awareness, increased education in sciences key to secure future, expert panel says

Cybersecurity has become more than a homeland security issue; it has become a national lifestyle issue that hinges on raising education at the individual level, a panel of information security experts said today.

“If the U.S. is going to continue to be a center of innovation in the world, we need to up our game” and get on par with the science, engineering and technology schooling of China and India, according to Richard Schaffer, information assurance director at the National Security Agency.

“It’s a U.S. problem; it’s a challenge that, [if left] unmet, is going to put us in a dangerous situation in 10 or 20 years when we can’t afford to be in second place. We never want to be in second place,” Schaffer added.

Beyond formal education, U.S. cybersecurity strategy needs to develop a public awareness campaign that permeates the workplace, schools and homes —much like the development of Smokey Bear to promote fire safety, panelists said.

“This [campaign] needs to include secretaries, administrators, front-line people who have no idea [about technology and cyberspace] — not just front line cyber operators,” said Adam Meyers, an SRA International information assurance principal who currently works with the State Department.

“We need a public awareness campaign that [says], ‘There is a threat, and you need to know how to deal with it,’ whether it’s malware or clicking on bad links or attachments,” Meyers said.

According to Bill Hunteman, association chief information officer for cyber security at the Energy Department, the U.S. has a ways to go in maturing our understanding and utilization of cyberspace. “Right now in cyber security we are roughly where we were in the medical field in the 1880s,” when the sick were recognized and quarantined, for example.

“We need to get to a point where individuals understand they are accountable and responsible for their own cyber security,” Hunteman added.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Mon, Dec 7, 2009

This is a simple as saying that computers and networks are dangerous,oh, and as simple minded.

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 Paul Neff

Apparently no one here remembers the FTC's "Dewie the Turtle" c. 2003 or so.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Adam Meyers Arlington, VA

Thank you, Amber, for letting me weigh in. Following the AFCEA Cyber Solutions Conference panel session on Tuesday, a colleague reached out to me with an interesting addendum to which I wanted to draw everyone's attention: Salim (salim.ae) the UAE cyber security mascot. I believe this approach is a great example of the type of outreach that the US government could consider for providing safe cyber security guidance and training to the citizenry. Using 'Salim' as an example, we can see the type of message that is important to communicate to the non-technical and younger generations. It would be great to see support for such a program to provide outreach to schools and communities to facilitate better cyber security practices and reduce instances of cyber bullying, and falling victim to scams like '419', phishing and other easily identified and defeatable attacks. Thanks again, Adam Meyers, Senior Cyber Security Engineer, SRA International

Fri, Dec 4, 2009

LOL - MAX HEADROOM idea! How about licensing the PBS "Cyberchase" characters? A bunch of groundwork's already been done. A couple of my kids were fans anyway.

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 Mark Odiorne NC

The military still has a good awareness program going - lots of clever material. Since it is in their face day in and day out, they have to keep it fresh and engaging.

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