Entries in Cyber Security (3)


Despite Threat of 'Cyber 9/11,' Lawmakers Punt Cyber Security Bill

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers will adjourn for a summer break without passing a cyber security bill, which legislators warned is imperative to pass due to an “imminent threat” of more sophisticated cyber attacks facing the country.

In recent days the Obama administration ratcheted up the fear, warning that without this legislation the nation’s security is at risk, vulnerable to a far-reaching cyber attack, a sentiment echoed throughout this week’s debate in the Senate.

“We don’t want a cyber 9/11,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said, “right now, our adversaries are watching us. We’re debating, protecting America from cyber attacks, and it looks like we’re doing nothing, that when all is said and done, more gets said than gets done. Our adversaries don’t have to spy at us. They can just look at the senate floor and say ‘what the heck are they doing?’”

But today the legislation failed to move through a procedural vote in the senate by a vote of 52-46. The bill would have established security standards to prevent cyber attacks on control systems and cyber systems that control the nation’s electric supply, financial transactions, transportation system and telecommunications system.

For months the Senate has been working on legislation offered by Sens. Joe Lieberman., I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. The legislation, which had the support of the White House, had always faced an uphill climb in Congress, even in its reworked and watered down language.

“It’s hard to see today as anything but a failure of the Senate and a setback for national security,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said today following the vote.

Republicans expressed apprehension that the legislation’s additional set of regulations and voluntary standards imposed on company’s computer networks could hurt companies and asked for more time to debate the bill.

To make matters worse for the legislation’s fate the bill was in line to be loaded up with non-relevant amendment relating to anti-abortion provisions and health care repeal votes.  This led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to cut off debate this week.

Republicans lashed out, calling Reid’s move “premature voting” with little to no opportunity to amend the legislation, and warned against lost momentum the legislation would face during a pause in the August recess.

“We are taking this vote when we should be spending our time at least certainly the rest of the day setting a framework that we could address cyber security during the first week that we are back in September,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said this morning before the vote failed, as anticipated, “I hope that this vote does not have a chilling effect on what I think was progress was being made.”

Both sides said they will come back and redouble efforts to pass what all admit is critical legislation in September. But many expressed a lack of confidence that such legislation could pass this year after today’s collapse of the legislation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The New College Classes That Require Top-Secret Clearance

NSA/Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- America’s most high-tech intelligence agency is looking to American colleges for the next generation of cyber warriors, and it is now designing its own top-secret classes to prepare them for training in the dark arts of cyber espionage.

The National Security Agency announced Monday that four universities had been selected for a new academic program -- an extension of President Obama's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education -- designed to teach students skills “associated with specialized cyber operations.”

The NSA is vague on the details of the courses and says on its website the curriculum will only offer the students a “glimpse” of the cyber capabilities sought by the country’s foremost collector of worldwide electronic intelligence data and protector of classified U.S. computer networks.  Any successful students won’t be trained for their real jobs until they actually arrive at the NSA.

Still, students and faculty involved will have to go through background security checks and obtain top-secret clearance before cracking open their laptops, the NSA says.

“The nation increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep America safe today and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility,” Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader with the program, said. “When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce....This effort will sow even more seeds.”

The universities selected by the NSA are Dakota State University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University and the University of Tulsa.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


CIA and NSA Websites Encourage Childs' Play

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Worried about what your children are getting into while surfing the Web? Well, how about organizations involved in intelligence gathering and espionage?

Despite their very adult missions, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency have sections specifically for youngsters.

On the CIA’s site -- the same one that hosts definitions of cannabis, meningococcal meningitis and maternal mortality rate -- children and teens can visit the Kids’ Page where a cubist cartoon spy using her high heel as a phone presides over a “welcome” telling readers they can “learn more about the CIA, our employees, and what we do every day.”

The NSA page is called America’s CryptoKids and looks more like a B-level animated movie than a government organization PR campaign. The NSA has games, puzzles and a cast of animal security officers, including Rosetta Stone the multilingual fox, Crypto Cat, who learned code breaking from an elderly Navajo nanny, and Cy and Cyndi, the cybersecurity twins welcomed into the CryptoKids family last year.

So how do the CryptoKids fit into the NSA’s mission “to protect U.S. national security systems and to produce foreign signals intelligence information?” And why would the CIA offer a word find and coloring book?

Communication expert Joanne Cantor said having games indicates that an organization wants kids to have a positive image of them.

Cantor said companies that see children as a target audience, such as fast-food chains or sweetened cereal producers, “have all sorts of games on their websites to make the kids like them and to sort of recruit them at young ages, and that’s very controversial among people who consider marketing to kids as unfair.”

Cantor did not see the CIA’s and NSA’s websites’ messages as inherently harmful, but said they could be subtle recruiting tactics.

“I think, particularly with character biographies, they want you to feel like you identify with the people who work there. Like this is something you could do,” Cantor said.

But Vanee’ Vines of the NSA Public Affairs Office denied that the agency uses its site as a recruiting tool.

“We’re aiming to raise awareness about cybersecurity, our mission, and how STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] skills are needed in a global society that increasingly relies on information technology,” Vines wrote in an email.

“We realize the importance of helping to educate the nation’s youth and raise awareness about the National Security Agency’s core values, vision, and critical mission.”

All federal agencies are strongly encouraged to have kids’ sections on their websites, thanks to a memo former President Bill Clinton released in 1997, but few are as elaborate as the NSA’s efforts. The memo does not specify how detailed the website must be or how much money should be allocated to the project.

While Vines said the NSA kids’ page has been reviewed frequently since the new design opened in 2005, she would not say how much it costs to keep the page “fresh and relevant.”

Kids can see more from the NSA’s cadre of cartoon characters at the agency’s museum.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio