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Lessons Re-Learned: The Benefits From the Focus on the Threat

WASHINGTON, DC – Many things will no doubt be learned from the UK’s and US’s ability to foil the planned attack on US airliners crossing the Pond — one thing for sure is a reminder of the importance of the threat vector. One of the very good shifts in US homeland security policy has been Secretary Chertoff’s emphasis on risk management — and running the calculus of vulnerability, threat and consequence. All too often, particularly in the past, many people seemed to predominately focus on the vulnerabilities and consequences, and underweight the focus on the threat. This led to a ‘secure everything’ view of the world — one that would be nirvana for sure — but in reality, nearly impossible, and with real direct and indirect costs. Perhaps this sub optimal alignment of focus is easy to understand — the threat is the thing that is more fully outside of our control — and harder to have visibility into, understand, and affect — particularly overseas. But the Brits’ reported ability to gain and use information about the plot — the imminent threat — and seemingly extinguish the threat — was the operative vector here. Of course vulnerabilities and consequences remain important, but one lesson re-learned is the critical nature of discovering and reducing the threat. This principle is applicable in may security circumstances, including network security, critical infrastructure protection, and fraud and crime committed over the net. As technology innovation continues to advance in defending networks and people, so too must continued advances be made in discovering and reducing the threat. There have been good steps forward in critical infrastructure protection in the US and elsewhere through increased intelligence capabilities and information sharing, and in the crime prevention area through increased prosecution of individuals and groups responsible for crime and fraud committed over the net. The foiling of this plot reminds us of how much more can and should be done. It also reminds us of the importance of maintaining flexibility and innovation in security defense. The UK plotters adjusted their weapons to circumvent the aviation defenses previously put in place — moving from knives to liquid bombs chosen no doubt to avoid x-ray and magnetic detection. They also reportedly had an insider, a technique centuries old. The ability to constantly adjust defenses, react to a new risk management calculus, and detect anomalies is crucial — another good reason why sound public policy dictates that the governments not mandate or set in stone the use of particular security technologies — they may be outdated or or provide a roadmap for circumvention the minute the cement is dry. In a security game of cat and mouse, innovation and flexibility — and the proper attention to the threat — enhance security.

Hats Off to the British Police and Security Services

BRUSSELS – Britain foiled what could have been the biggest terrorist attack in its history last week,”mass murder on an unimaginable scale”, as Paul Stephenson, the deputy chief of London’s Metropolitan police put it. The uncovering of a plot to destroy several aircraft over the Atlantic has boosted the image of British police and particularly the country’s security services. Details are still emerging, but it is clear that co-operation between national intelligence services and advanced electronic surveillance are alive and well and improving. British security sources acknowledge Pakistani assistance but most importantly their electronic interception of messages between the alleged terrorists in the UK and their links and direction somewhere in Pakistan as the main source of intelligence. For Europeans, the danger is internal, inside our borders, and it appears to be growing; there is a general unease about this terrorist threat being home-grown. The terrorists’operation thankfully failed but Europeans are paying a price. The hundreds of cancelled flights in and out of Heathrow airport and the stringent new security regulations have affected hundreds of thousands and will inconvenience more air travelers. The damage to race relations and acceptance of different cultures could be even more severe in an increasing multi-ethnic Europe. But, the battle against terrorism will continue, with increased fervor. The Commission and Finnish Presidency will convene a meeting of EU Home and Justice Affairs Ministers (extremely unusual in the middle of August) next week to discuss a further strengthening of cooperation between intelligence services and improvements to electronic surveillance systems.

Technology Generation Gap

SACRAMENTO, CA – My daughter just turned 10. It now takes two whole hands to show her age! And, lately, I’ve been amazed at what those hands can do on our piano — and our computer. If you’re like me and have kids home 24/7 now because of summer vacation, you may be tempted to plant them in front of the computer to overcome whines of boredom.I’m amazed at her recent view that email is”snail mail” now that she’s discovered instant messaging with her cousins and a few neighborhood friends. Her puzzled look as I explained what”snail mail” really is said it all: Her generation’s ability to see technology not simply as productivity tools but as enabling social interactions is far different from those of us who still received a Smith-Corona typewriter at our high school graduation. While the phone and email remain an essential part of daily interactions, it’s clear that texting/instant messaging is replacing the need for many telephone conversations or email exchanges.Nearly two-thirds of Americans using the Internet connect to the internet using high-speed broadband connections. We have four email accounts at our home, but no family web page. My Daughter now wants her own web site address and a second email. As a compromise, she’s agreed to help us create a family web site, so we searched the web for information. One article noted that we are quickly gobbling up available internet addresses. When the internet came into existence some 20 years ago, programmers made room for four billion addresses (16-bit numbers). Now a new internet protocol called IPv6 has been developed that will create 340,282,366,920,938,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 unique web addresses (let’s see if I can get this right-that translates to 340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion.). Ah, a veritable Milky Way of address availability-which makes it kinda hard for a Dad to say no to the creation of a couple of more web destinations.The benefits of social and economic interactions on the internet will become increasingly apparent in the years ahead, as my daughter’s generation, paired with powerful networks, killer applications, and innovative consumer devices, come of age. (Written August 3rd)

John Chambers: “Why Tony Blair Gets It When It Comes to Tech”

SAN JOSE, CA – I encourage you to check out a commentary on (CNET) by our President and CEO John Chambers on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Silicon Valley last week. John Chambers 2006.jpgPart of commentary states: “Blair’s visit to Cisco demonstrates that a decade after the mainstream introduction of the Internet, it remains one of the single-most important elements to our success as nations, industries and people. Some look at the Internet and say it’s an old story. But what they miss is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of how the Net will transform the way we live, work, play and learn. It changes everything; from the way we conduct business to how we are entertained to our interactions with our families and communities.”Read the full article here.

Spectrum Auctions: The Primer on Roy G. Biv

SAN JOSE, CA – I wanted to draw your attention to a story in The Bergen Record by reporter Martha McKay on spectrum auctions. My colleague, Robert Pepper, is quoted in the story as saying: “The public spectrum is an incredibly important resource…It’s become ingrained into people’s daily lives — it’s one of those invisible resources like air.” spectrum.jpgMcKay does a nice job of laying down the history of spectrum auctions as well as how spectrum can be used…her lead sets the story up nicely, “Dozens of companies will compete next month in a high-stakes government auction for control over some of the most valuable real estate in the U.S. But it’s not real estate in the terrestrial sense. The auction is for slices of the nation’s airwaves, otherwise known as radio spectrum. It’s what is used to operate everything from your garage door opener to your cellphone to your favorite radio station.”Read the full story here.