Cybersecurity Partnerships are 'Absolutely Critical,' says Gen. Dale Meyerrose

Gen. Dale Meyerrose

Recently, The New New Internet had the opportunity to speak with retired Air Force Gen. Dale Meyerrose, who currently serves as vice president and general manager for cyberspace solutions at Harris Corporation. In the interview, Meyerrose discusses the importance of building partnerships and the challenges to building them, making more people “cyber aware” and the issue of cyber crime.

TNNI: Just to start off, could you tell me a little about your background?

Meyerrose: Sure. I’ve spent over three and a half decades in public service. The first 30+ years I was in the United States Air Force, the last three years in public service I was the first Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed chief information officer of the intelligence community. I spent most of that service in cyber communications, information technology intelligence, command control operations and space support. I graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1975 with a degree in economics, I have a master’s in business administration from University of Utah.

TNNI: As the VP and GM for cyberspace solutions at Harris Corporation, what do your duties entail?

Meyerrose: I lead all aspects for the company in terms of strategy for cyber business development and program execution for cyber initiatives.

TNNI: Earlier this month, in a statement before Congress on the annual threat assessment of the U.S. Intelligence committee, Dennis Blair highlighted some of the issues facing the U.S. in cyberspace and the need to build partnerships between the public and private sectors. How important is it to build partnerships and what obstacles or challenges will such efforts face?

Meyerrose: It’s absolutely critical, in my view. Ninety percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States is in private ownership and there is, I think, an inherent responsibility of protection from the government. Most of the sophisticated capability with regard to cyberspace, both capability and protection, reside in the government and a lot of it in the United States Military. So we have a series of legal and cultural barriers towards parts of the government, particularly the United States Military, to help out on domestic affairs. So there’s this almost dichotomy between where the critical infrastructure is in our country and where the means to protect it and take care of it reside.

TNNI: The White House recently named Howard Schmidt to the position of cybersecurity coordinator late in December of 2009. What challenges do you think Schmidt will face in the coming year?

Meyerrose: Clearly, he is occupying a new position, never before been a part of our government. And so the first thing is to make sure that he’s part of the right processes, that he has the right roles outlined for how other parts of the government will interface with him. I think he needs to outline the priorities that he’ll focus on that were a result of the 60-day cyber review taken earlier last year. Probably the most difficult to figure out is how to get the 22 different governmental departments and many agencies to give credence to working together in solving jointly the issues in front of our government, and our country.

TNNI: Recently there have been calls for better educational efforts targeting both employees and the public at large, some going so far as suggesting a ‘Smokey the Bear’ model for cyberspace. How important is education to cybersecurity and what are some positive steps both government and companies can take toward nurturing more cyber aware citizens?

Meyerrose: I’m not exactly sure what a Smokey the Bear for cyberspace would be, but in my view, cyberspace skills may soon rival the 3 R’s in being able to be a productive citizen in our society. Cyberspace is a part of almost everything we do– whether it’s opening a hotel door; getting money to spend, to order things, to pay bills, to do banking; our transportation and power—so cyberspace is becoming almost inseparable from most pursuits in American life. There is a responsibility of our citizenry to protect not only themselves, but other users. I don’t think the importance of this social responsibility has been articulated, nor what these problems might be. The government can take part in this education through public service announcements and other such devices. And as I alluded to earlier, with so much critical infrastructure being in private ownership, there’s an inherent accountability for folks who own that critical infrastructure. So how do companies reward and punish behavior in cyberspace that they’re accountable for?

TNNI: One of the essential issues in both the public and private sectors is ensuring that organizations are able to recruit and retain skilled cyber professionals. How does Harris seek to retain the top talent?

Meyerrose: First of all, we have a very close working relationship with several educational institutions. In particular, we’ve spent about 5 million dollars in both facilities and in an information assurance center at the Florida Institute of Technology. We also, last fall, contributed over 3 million dollars to University of Florida to fund engineering programs. We also fund scholarships and internships at the local level in various locations where Harris facilities reside, and they reside in virtually almost every state in the country. Clearly the elements of technical education are what is most important to cyberspace. Those that were traditionally important to information technology, communications industries and all those kinds of things are indeed part of what is important to cyber: math, science and engineering.

TNNI: What kind of issues in cybersecurity are of greatest concern to you, and why?

Meyerrose: The one of most concern to me is cyber crime. It’s the most insidious, I think. I know there’s a propensity for folks to want to demonize and look for radicals or other countries to be the cause of bad things that happen in cyber space. Those are there and those threats are very real, but the elements of cyber crime I think, particularly economically for our country, have come to the point where we need to really be concerned. There have been estimates that we’ve lost over a trillion dollars a year to cyber crime in the last couple years. And it now exceeds all other crime in terms of the amount of money. So it’s something that undermines the trust in our economy and something that I worry about, not only as a citizen, but also as a steward of a company’s assets.

TNNI: What sort of positive steps do you think the government or companies or both really, can take towards combating this threat?

Meyerrose: Well, there are lots of things that we really need to do. There are elements of legislation, so much of our law knows how to deal with things in the physical sight, like a burglary, robbery, an assault, a theft, those kinds of things. But when those things happen in cyberspace it’s not quite so clear. First of all, cyberspace is borderless. So where’s the jurisdictional lines for taking action against somebody. It is also something that you don’t immediately see. You know, people talk about a Katrina or a 9/11 or a Pearl Harbor as a description of wide-ranging destruction, damage, and even death. Well, in cyber you don’t see that.  But what does happen is people lose confidence in cyber’s ability to do what it says and also there are real assets that end up changing hands almost invisibly through cyberspace.

TNNI: Those were all the questions I had. Is there anything you wanted to add?

Meyerrose: I think that this more and more needs to become a national priority and a priority of companies and citizenry. For the past decade we’ve had this convergence of social networking and universal access to information and that’s not going to go away. That’s all propelled by cyberspace. There are no pedestrians in cyberspace. Everyone is a victim, a user, a threat to somebody else because you may be passing a malicious code along inadvertently. So the concept that it doesn’t affect me, or that I’m not a part of the problem is indeed the conundrum that we have in getting cyberspace the right kind of priority.

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