Cyber Security Guru Outlines Very Real Threat at ExecutiveBiz Breakfast

It is hard to know what is keeping Melissa Hathaway up at night these days – the cyber security threat facing U.S. citizens, corporations and government entities or the cold and upper respiratory illness she has been battling this week.

Hathaway is Senior Advisor to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Cyber Coordination Executive, and at the ExecutiveBiz Cyber Security Breakfast this past on Tuesday morning she spoke candidly to an audience of Federal IT executives and decision makers about the very real and shared cyber threat facing the country.

For Hathaway, the stakes could not be higher when it comes to the need to dramatically reduce the cyber threat. And now that Hathaway has been asked to remain on board for the incoming Administration, her role as cyber security guru will intensify. In addition to her senior advisor role, Hathaway also chairs the National Cyber Study Group (NCSG), and in January 2008 was appointed the Director of the Joint Interagency Cyber Task Force (JIACTF). I could throw a few more acronyms in her job description but that should offer a glimpse of the extent to which she sits at the heart of the government’s cyber security efforts.

While Hathaway dedicated time to outlining how the cyber threat is real and growing, she stressed that the task of thwarting nefarious cyber activity could not fall solely on the government’s shoulders. Addressing the threat requires greater public discussion and awareness, as well as deeper executive engagement from industry – a public/private sector partnership to identify big crises looming and innovative solutions that could head them off.

And while her cold probably made sleep difficult, what really keeps her up at night is what Hathaway describes as a lack of “situational awareness” – in other words an inability to assess and diagnose current and looming cyber threats across multiple areas of government and the private sector. Though Hathaway painted a dark picture in outlining the challenges, she also came armed with potential solutions – ranging from realigning R&D efforts and improved cyber-education for military professionals to the promise of DARPA’s cyber testing environment.

Hathaway concluded her remarks with a call to action for executives in the room. Not only did she seek a committed partner that would provide the technologies, expertise and resources to address cyber threats, but a partner to help communicate the threat message by monetizing the risk in a way people understand. I may never use my credit card again, but I certainly emerged from the breakfast with a better understand of how real and complex the cyber threat is.

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