Improving Cybersecurity Requires Teamwork and Collaboration

November 2, 2015
By Robert B. Dix Jr.

It’s time for the public to treat it as an everyday security issue.

The annual focus of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month during October each year reminds us clearly that cybersecurity protection and resilience is a team sport. Only through partnership and collaboration can we improve our national and global capability to address the evolving risk in cyberspace.

Throughout the United States—and in countries around the world—public, private, academic and non-profit organizations of all sizes are advancing education and awareness efforts to raise the consciousness for citizens in regards to cybersecurity. These collective efforts to raise the bar of cybersecurity protection, preparedness and resilience will help make the nation safer and more secure. Congratulations go to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance for their work to organize and coordinate the various activities during the month of October.

However, one designated month of focus on this topic is no longer enough.

The risk presented by perpetrators of criminal conduct in cyberspace continues to grow, and the bad guys are getting better at their craft. We must respond.

There was a time not too long ago when people did not worry about locking doors or windows at their homes. However, the risk of criminal activity in neighborhoods and communities caused homeowners, landlords and businesses to take steps to improve security to protect their families and property. Today, not only do many people lock their doors and windows, but also they have installed fences, alarm systems and even security cameras in their homes and businesses.

In the online world, far too many of us have had our credit cards or bank accounts compromised and even our identity information stolen. Individual and collective vigilance is necessary each day, and it is a continuing challenge to move to a culture of security in cyberspace. People do not have to be technology experts to learn not to click on links or attachments that they do not trust. It does not cost anything, other than a few minutes of time, to periodically change passwords as an important measure. The truth is that the bad guys count on the “it won’t happen to me” thinking that can result in a more casual or naïve approach to protecting cyber assets and conduct online. Individual computers and devices can be compromised and used to perpetrate illegal, criminal and even more serious online behavior.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month helps draw attention to these issues in a visible and concentrated way. As important and valuable as it is, it is not enough.

It is time for everyone to leverage the momentum, lessons and messages of National Cyber Security Awareness Month and apply those every single day to move all cyber users and the cyber community at large to an everyday culture of security. This would address fundamental protection practices that matter and make a difference.

Implementing a comprehensive and sustained national education and awareness campaign that engages government, industry, academia, non-profits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and stakeholders across the spectrum of cyber users is an important pillar in the foundation of a sustained culture of cybersecurity. Bringing together departments and agencies of the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments; small, medium and large businesses; K-12 and higher education; and the wide array of non-profits and NGOs to help teach users of all levels of sophistication about basic protection measures to improve cyber hygiene will address the challenge in a meaningful and powerful manner.

Working together to build on the examples of the U.S. Stay Safe Online and the U.K. Get Safe Online, we can organize information in a manner that will benefit a broad range of users. Such a tool will be incredibly valuable in national efforts to raise the bar of protection and resilience while also turning the tables on the bad guys by making it more difficult and more expensive to perpetrate their nefarious activities. It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of exploitable vulnerabilities in cyberspace are the result of poor or no cyber hygiene. The implementation of basic, fundamental measures of cyber protection that raise the level of protection do make a difference in the overall effort to reduce personal and collective cyber risk.

There is no illusion that this approach alone will solve the broader cybersecurity challenge. The remaining 20 percent of the cyber risk presents a greater challenge as offenders continue to pursue more dangerous and sophisticated attacks through examples such as an advanced persistent threat, disruption and manipulation of data, and the release of destructive malware intended to damage networks, systems and equipment and invoke collateral impact that could include damage to property and injury to persons.

Accordingly, teamwork and collaboration are essential to mounting a meaningful response to the growing and evolving cybersecurity challenge. Many users simply do not know what to do or where to go to get reliable information about simple steps they can take to improve their cyber protection.

Imagine if each federal department and agency had a link on its own site that connected to a website for citizens to visit and learn about how to protect themselves better in cyberspace. Imagine if every state, local, tribal and territorial government included a link to such a website to help citizens learn about how individual users, small businesses and even larger enterprises could improve their cyber protection.

Imagine if every elected official at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial level included a link to that website on their constituent home page that helps inform folks about measures they could implement to reduce the risk of a cyber intrusion. This would be leading by example and would not be too heavy a lift to implement.

Imagine if businesses, trade associations, school divisions, non-profit organizations and many other stakeholders similarly included information in their regular publications and communications about how to access such a website to share recommended measures for improving cyber hygiene and overall cybersecurity protection.

Imagine public service announcements, TV spots, posters and other collateral material that highlighted the growing risk in cyberspace, offered tips for basic protection and provided information about where people can get more details about protecting themselves in everyday activities such as banking and e-commerce.

Imagine a widespread social media campaign that leverages Twitter, Facebook and others to raise awareness and direct online users to a site where they can obtain information about low-cost/no-cost measures to make them safer and more secure as they engage activities in cyberspace.

A coordinated campaign will inspire, motivate, educate and empower users to take ownership of steps and measures to make a difference in improving national cybersecurity and resilience while contributing to making the nation safer and more secure.

The United States can—and should—be a leader in the global community, as cyber knows no sovereign boundaries. The Internet has provided great opportunity for improving communication, education and economic prosperity. However, it also is clear that some that seek to exploit the internet for nefarious activities such as criminal conduct, economic espionage and even terrorism.  Pursuing a culture of security in cyberspace is essential to protecting people and property.

Let us leverage National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2015 and build on the good work done by so many during October to launch a joint, collaborative national initiative to make protecting identities, bank and credit card accounts, intellectual property and business secrets—as well as the networks and systems that underpin the nation’s critical infrastructure—a national priority. And, let us improve the education of all citizens and enhance recognition of the growing and evolving risk in cyberspace.

Together, everyone truly can make a meaningful difference. Teamwork and collaboration are essential. The only thing missing is leadership and will. October may now be behind us, but the opportunity to seize the moment to work together to raise awareness for all stakeholders lies just ahead. Let’s get to it.

Robert B. Dix Jr. is vice president, Global Government Affairs and Public Policy, Juniper Networks.

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