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Changing the Cyber Discourse

March 31, 2017
By Sandra Jontz
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For all the talk about how hard it is to crack the cybersecurity code, what if the dialogue shifted?

What if technologists were given the right economic incentives to solve the problem? What if, instead of droning on about poor cyber hygiene practices, users weren’t treated like they are the problem but the solution? 

Beyond the headlines of the latest sensational megahack lies a vulnerable cyber ecosystem at which public safety and national security are at serious risk, says John Gilligan, co-chairman of AFCEA International’s Cyber Committee. For all the talk of cyber crime, espionage, hacktivism and disruption—costing trillions of dollars—the committee’s role is relevant and vital, leading those dialogues for technological solutions and best practices. 

Take, for example, the concept-to-market progression of breakthrough technologies now revamping the automobile industry. Decades ago, engineers might have been mocked as crazy at the mention of cars not needing human drivers. Yet, with some restrictions notwithstanding, self-driving cars today are hitting the roads in Arizona, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

It is not as though the cyber domain lacks the same intellectual talent, Gilligan offers. “What we have are little bits and pieces of tools that, rather than solving the problem, are creating new markets that are based on the assumptions of a flawed underpinning infrastructure rather than really going after the solution,” says Gilligan, president and chief operating officer at Schafer Corporation and the former chief information officer for the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Energy.

What if technologists could solve the problem, but just don’t want to? What if government regulations made it worth their while? “With the right will—and economic incentives—they could solve it today,” Gilligan shares. “It’s a mindset issue. We need to disrupt the normal market forces a little bit.”

Such are some of the discussions that provide the grist for the thought leadership mill for the Cyber Committee and the newly launched The Cyber Edge online, the go-to source of news on the changing technologies, policies, threats and solutions affecting the dynamic domain.

The fundamental precepts of AFCEA, a nonprofit association, focuses on bringing industry, government and academia together to share, learn and where appropriate, take actions, Gilligan offers. “That’s particularly appropriate in this context because there is so much noise in the environment about cyber,” he says.

Government, industry and academia still struggle to figure cyber out and how best to deal with the constant threats that endanger national security and our way of life. The committee, a volunteer group of experts, pens white papers and hosts conferences to examine and advise on a number of key cyber-related issues, from the economics of protecting the cyberspace to securing critical infrastructure and leveraging the Internet of Things.

“Because of the nature of having senior people in government and industry, we really can draw upon a rich set of talented and experienced people,” Gilligan says.

That said, there also is considerable focus on tapping younger experts, particularly through the Young AFCEAN program, a network of professionals 40 years and younger.  “They tend to be very technically savvy and bring knowledge of technologies, particularly leading-edge technologies, and best practices that those who have been around awhile just haven’t experienced,” Gilligan quipped. 

The fresh perspective helps bring focus, for example, on the implications of social media in cyberspace or the inevitable proliferation of Internet-connected devices to the work place. What they might lack in experience is mixed with the knowledge offered by more experienced members, he said. “Bringing the knowledge of the millennial generation and their understanding of technology, and coupling that with folks who understand policy, you begin to put together some insights that are helpful to organizations.”

That’s not all. The committee also benefits from its international reach and representation, Gilligan expands, which brings outside perspectives on U.S. national cybersecurity initiatives to the discussion table as well as insight of what other nations are doing in the critical domain.

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