Perhaps you work for a company, the public sector (like a government agency or a hospital) or a small business. Or perhaps you are currently not in the workforce. No matter what your profession, your instincts may tell you that cybersecurity is personally important to you. You’ll be happy to learn that many citizens and organizations around the world, including the United States federal government, are working towards a common goal to make cyberspace a safer place. My visit last week to the White House to attend a national cybersecurity event further confirmed this notion.
Back in March this year, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano challenged everyone to come up with the best ideas for clearly and comprehensively raising cybersecurity awareness. My colleague Kevin Parra and I, with the support of a number of our colleagues, responded to this challenge and submitted a comprehensive proposal on Cisco’s behalf. By the end of June, I received a call from DHS informing me that our proposal had advanced to the next round of the selection process. As you might imagine, excitement and anticipation started to grow very quickly among our team.
Less than two weeks later, fantastic news came. DHS called again and told me that Cisco had been selected as one of the final winners of the DHS National Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign Challenge. I was thrilled to hear that Kevin and I were invited to the White House to attend a joint event including a discussion on the progress of the president’s cybersecurity efforts and the DHS cybersecurity challenge ceremony.
When Kevin and I walked towards the Southwest Gate of the White House on Wednesday, July 14, rain started falling. However, it did not dampen our enthusiasm at all. After passing through two layers of ID checks and a security-screening gate, we met with the DHS officials and were advised of the meeting agenda. We joined a distinguished group of industry, academic, research and government representatives as Howard Schmidt, the Cybersecurity Coordinator, kicked off the meeting with a welcome and introduction. After Mr. Schmidt completed his review of the recent progress made by his office, Department of Commerce (DOC) Secretary Gary Locke spoke about how DOC is working towards common cybersecurity goals as part of the Cyberspace Policy Review. Ultimately, he said, “The importance of cyber security can be summed up in one word: Confidence.”
Soon after Secretary Locke’s speech, President Obama unexpectedly joined us. Since this was not announced previously, everyone was pleasantly surprised and a loud round of applause filled the room. You might be curious what it is like to be in the same room with the President, as he talks to you about something that you care deeply about. It’s similar to how you can watch a game on TV and get excited about it, but the sense of closeness and the level of engagement and excitement is never the same unless you are actually there. The President discussed a broad range of cybersecurity issues, including progress on multiple specific initiatives such as the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE). These efforts are not going to be easy and will require hashing through a lot of differences, he warned. The President made a great personal connection when he said that he’s young enough to have a Blackberry and an iPod but too old to actually know how to work and program them. The entire audience burst out laughing upon hearing that comment. He finished off by letting us know that “You have a President who understands how vitally important what you do is.”
DHS Deputy Under Secretary Phil Reitinger led a panel discussion on industry and government input. Secretary Napolitano then gave us a quick update on the five DHS key priorities, led by the top priority of counter-terrorism, followed by (in no particular order) securing borders, enforcement of immigration laws, protection of the cyberspace and response to disasters (such as the recent Gulf oil spill). Cyberspace protection is so critical, she said, because of its foundational and global inter- connectedness with the economy and infrastructure.
Secretary Napolitano proceeded with the announcement of winners of the DHS cybersecurity challenge. Cisco won the Best Publicity and Marketing award. Our proposal provided detailed action plans to drive cybersecurity awareness in terms of a balance between Internet safety as a personal responsibility and a shared responsibility. Our winning campaign theme is “Cybersecurity is Everyone’s Responsibility”. Yes, everyone. You, me, and everyone else. It’s time for action.
For next steps, check out what you can do with Cisco and visit National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) to prepare for National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October. The photo below was taken shortly after the white House meeting. I was holding the DHS winning certificate with Kevin. No more rain … what a difference a few hours make.