Making Cyberspace a safer place

This week Cyberspace got a little bit safer. In case you missed some of the reactions from USA Today, Dallas Morning News and The Guardian, earlier this week, 400 leaders of governments, businesses, academia and civil society from 40 major “cyber” nations attended the East West Institute’s first Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit held May 3 – 5 in Dallas to formulate a plan to combat hackers, thieves, spies and terrorists in cyberspace. I had the pleasure of attending the event, along with Michael Dell, Ross Perot, Jr., Peter Altabef, and several others representing Dell.

The EastWest Institute (EWI) is a global think-and-do tank that devises innovative solutions to pressing security concerns (real space and cyberspace), and mobilizes networks of individuals, institutions and nations to implement these solutions. It has been around for over 30 years.

The Summit began with an opening dinner that included some baseline polling of participants as well as two interactive conversations on international cooperation and the requirement for public/private partnership in addressing the problems. The conversations were led by Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent for CBS News. The “conversationists” included:

  • Howard A. Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator
  • Udo Helmbrecht, Executive Director, European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA)
  • Kamlesh Bajaj, Chief Executive Officer, Data Security Council of India
  • Michael Dell
  • Teri Takai, Chief Information Officer, State of California
  • Philip Reitinger, Deputy Undersecretary, National Protection & Programs Directorate, Department of Homeland Security (TBC)
  • Melissa Hathaway, Senior Advisor to Project Minerva, Former Acting Senior Director for Cyberspace for the U.S. National Security and Homeland Security Councils

A theme that began in these conversations and continued through the conference was that cybercrime isn’t really a technology problem; the real issue is that society must make decisions about what is “right” in cyberspace and then follow through with standards, laws and enforcement.

As Michael Dell said, “The interesting question to ponder is that we have an enormous number of bad actors who are able to be completely anonymous. Can you think of any secure system where people can operate anonymously? I don’t think there is one. These are important questions for governments and societies to answer.”

The two days of summit were composed of interactive panels with a few keynotes thrown in. Lunch included further polling sessions as well as a presentation by Scott Charney, Corporate Vice President, Trustworthy Computing, Microsoft. That session had my favorite quote of the conference, “Cyberespionage is espionage. W e have been doing it to each other forever, get over it and get on doing what we have always done.”

In addition to the panels, the agenda featured “Break Through Sessions,” breakout working sessions focused on setting actionable items that can be put into place following the Summit.

One of the unique approaches used by the EWI, in my opinion, is the Break Through Groups, which are focused around a specific international policy problem. These groups are tasked with conducting a rigorous discussion on solutions to the problem using a proven technical policy development framework. The Groups continue their work after the Summit to achieve a policy breakthrough. This was the source of EWI’s success in the historically intractable undersea cable problems in the South China Sea.

The industries covered in the Groups were information and communications technology, finance, essential government services, media, transportation, energy and national security. I was the Rappatuer, or discussion leader, for the essential government services group (and learned a new word in the process and now you can too). Our group recognized that the future of government services was to be accessed and delivered electronically and existing identity systems (birth certificates, social security cards, driver’s licenses, and passports) are inadequate for the job. More global compatibility is needed in order to meet the requirements.

In summary, the Summit was a fantastic event, filled with insightful commentary on a very real problem. I am confident that by bringing this influential and dedicated group together, we have made a significant step forward in fighting cybercrime around the world.

About the Author: Jim Stikeleather