SMU Tate Lecture talks cybersecurity

Thanks to tonight’s #SMUtate sponsor – @omnihotels!

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On March 29 SMU’s Tate Lecture turned its attention to cybersecurity and Cyberwarfare. Guests for the lecture were Keith Alexander and Kevin Mandia, with the lecture moderated by SMU’s own Dr. Fredrick Chang.

Alexander is a retired 4-star general, former NSA director and former commander of U.S. Cyber Command. As NSA director from 2005 to 2014, he was responsible for protecting all U.S. Department of Defense networks and as commander of U.S. Cyber Command he was tasked with military combat support and other cyber warfare tasks. Currently, Alexander is CEO and president of IronNet Cybersecurity, a cybersecurity consulting firm.

Mandia is a former security officer at the Pentagon who transferred into the private sector in cybersecurity consulting. He founded Mandiant Corporation, which is a computer consulting firm, and currently serves as the president of FireEye security. He specializes in the forensics of cybercrime and has created training materials for the FBI and other government organizations.

Alexander opened up the lecture with a witty story of President George W. Bush’s leadership, in which former President Bush told Alexander, then director of the NSA, “You defend the nation, I’ll take the heat.” Alexander commented on how much he admired Bush’s willingness to do what was necessary to ensure the safety of the American people.

The rest of the lecture discussed what is being done to protect the United States from cyberattacks from around the globe. Mandia reassured the audience that U.S. banks are “up near the good end” of security and are only shortly behind the Federal Government in terms of security.

However, he went on to highlight how the United States government does not work well enough with corporations, and often private entities are left to defend themselves against foreign government’s attacks.

Mandia described the situation of public-sector security as being “like having a fire department with no 911.” There currently are no ways for private organizations to alert the Federal Government that they are being attacked and no ways to receive appropriate protection.

Alexander followed that discussion by putting cybersecurity and internet theft into context. He claimed that theft on the internet eclipses $455 billion a year and that stolen intellectual property is allowing foreign nations to gain an upper hand economically on the United States.

In addition to discussing the private sector and security, Alexander discussed the NSA and what steps are being taken to protect Americans from terrorist attacks with both defensive and offensive measures. He told the story of an ACLU lawyer who visited the NSA and described the organization as having “the most integrity of any government organization he’s ever observed.”

The lecture closed with Alexander’s responses to questions on Snowden, the Anonymous hacker group, and on the effectiveness of the NSA. He stressed the danger of actors like Snowden and Anonymous, and the dangers that can be brought about from exposing information and attacking without proper controls.

Alexander closed the lecture with a story of how the NSA’s surveillance prevented a bombing of New York’s subway system.

The next Tate lecture will be held May 2 and will feature James Carville, leader of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and Karl Rove, leader of George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.

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