Why Do We Have A National Cyber Security Awareness Month?
By James R. Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Contributor, In Homeland Security
National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) was first observed in 2004 after the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created it. This event has now been active since 2004 and through its initiatives, it is designed to help all Americans be safe and secure online.
The need for improved cyber security among both children and adults is very great. Even President Obama stated in a 2014 presidential proclamation: “Cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers the United States faces.”
Cyber Security Breaches Cost Businesses Millions of Dollars
In a recent In Homeland Security article, Paul Abruzzo, the VP of Innovative Engineering at Equiinet, Inc., stated that the average total cost of a computer network breach is $4 million. This figure is up 29% since 2013. When you factor in the risk to national security from cyberespionage network breaches, the cost for U.S. government agencies is much higher.
Attacks by Chinese Hackers a Factor in Developing NCSAM
One of the best and earliest articles describing the events that pushed the formation of NCSAM was Nathan Thornburgh’s 2005 Time Magazine article. This article, “Inside the Chinese Hack Attack,” was an early and unclassified view of Titan Rain, a designation that the U.S. government gave to a series of coordinated attacks on American computer systems starting in 2003.
In his article, Thornburgh states: “Hackers breaking into official U.S. networks are not just using Chinese systems as a launch pad, but are based in China. Their story: Sometime on November 1st, 2004, hackers sat down at computers in southern China and set off once again on their daily hunt for U.S. secrets. Since 2003, the group had been conducting wide-ranging assaults on U.S. government targets to steal sensitive information, part of a massive cyberespionage ring that U.S. investigators have codenamed Titan Rain.”
While some people think recent events of both Chinese and Russian hacking are new, they have a long history that caused the origin of NCSAM.
Evolution of National Cyber Security Awareness Month
Over the years, NCSAM evolved through training and awareness and has led to improved cyber security in many organizations. In government agencies, for example, security managers now hold special classified briefings to tell stories about nation-state cyberespionage. These security managers describe the threat that cyberespionage poses to the United States and the impact of that spying on our national security.
Similarly, security managers in corporate organizations communicate information to their workforce and employees from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT, a division of DHS) National Cyber Awareness System. The National Cyber Awareness System provides corporate security professionals with bulletins, alerts and tips to help improve the cyber knowledge and awareness of employees and security professionals. The system’s tools are focused on three user bases: industry control system users, government users and home and business users.
More Cyber Security Education Needed to Protect Economic Losses and National Security
NCSAM is an ambitious mission, but it is one that is vitally needed for our national defense. Hacking allowed the Chinese military to steal plans for the newest U.S. Air Force jet called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Chinese military has now created a close copy of this jet that they call the J-31.
The 2014 research and development bill for the F-35 fighter was $816 million. U.S. taxpayers paid for the development of this highly expensive fighter jet, and Chinese taxpayers did not have to pay research and development costs.
Heavy economic losses like this fighter jet could be avoided in the future through improved cyber security education. If we are to protect our secrets, we need to improve our cyber security skills and National Cyber Security Awareness Month is an important step toward that goal.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded their 43rd scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence within the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, contractor and civil service.
James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. In 2016 he was accepted as a member of the Military Writers Guild. He has served in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and at the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office. James had an active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and also served 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” and a new book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea.”
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