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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Opening Keynote: Mike McConnell (Symposium Summary)

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Summary by Jason Ortiz

Mike McConnell, retired Admiral of the Navy, former Director of NSA and former Director of National Intelligence delivered the opening keynote speech for the eleventh annual CERIAS Security Symposium. The majority of this keynote was devoted to recounting his experiences and efforts to move forward national cyber capabilities. The following is a summary of those efforts.

Admiral McConnell opened the address with a simple statement: “The nation is at significant risk.” He pointed out that the United States’ economy and livelihood is in information streams. If those streams are interrupted or tampered with, the United States could lose trillions of dollars almost instantly.

McConnell continued the keynote by making three predictions. The first of those was the idea that the United States will continue to talk about cyber defenses but not really do anything until after a catastrophic cyber event. The Admiral supported this idea by pointing out that if extremist groups were to focus their efforts on cyber attacks, they could disrupt transportation and the economy. As evidenced by attacks last spring in California (criminals cut fiber optic cables), they could also disrupt services such as 9-11 service, internet connectivity, and cellular phone service.

McConnell’s second prediction was that after a catastrophic event, the government of the United States would suddenly lurch into action. They will pass laws, appropriate money and work to prevent the same sort of catastrophe from reoccurring. After all, Washington D.C. responds to four things: crisis, the ballot box, money and law. A catastrophic cyber attack would generate changes or problems in all four of these areas.

McConnell then proceeded to explain the most important aspects of cyber security as he learned as Director of the NSA. The first most important aspect is authentication. The second most important aspect is data integrity. The third aspect is non-repudiation. The fourth is availability, and the least important aspect is the ciphertext itself (encryption).

Finally, the third prediction made by Admiral McConnell was that the United States would reengineer the internet. He explained how the military uses the internet and predicts that the entire national network will be implemented in a similar manner in the future. Concerning the government, it is McConnell’s belief that the government can help to implement the redesigned and more secure network.

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