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Former Homeland Security secretary: Politicians aren't taking cybersecurity threat seriously enough

March 7, 2018 Updated: March 7, 2018 at 7:35 pm
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photo - FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo, former Pennsylvania Gov. and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stands before Tom Wolf takes the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo, former Pennsylvania Gov. and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stands before Tom Wolf takes the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) 

Politicians aren't taking cybersecurity seriously enough, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday in Colorado Springs.

"I don't see a sense of urgency in the political world about how serious this challenge is," Ridge said in a luncheon speech during the Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium at The Broadmoor hotel. "We have been engaged in a fifth-dimension war, a cyberwar. No one has asked Congress to declare war, but every minute of every day and every week of every year, our adversaries are looking to disrupt, destroy and steal from us."

More than 2,500 cybersecurity professionals are attending the four-day conference hosted by the Colorado Springs-based Rocky Mountain chapter of AFCEA International, a nonprofit that connects military, government and businesses to advance information technology, communications and electronics capabilities.

The former Pennsylvania congressman and governor, who later became the first secretary of the newly created Department of Homeland Defense, said Congress has been slow to adopt cybersecurity policies ranging from giving businesses immunity from regulatory penalties if they share information on cyberattacks with federal agencies to proposals to merge the National Security Agency with U.S. Cyber Command. When politicians are slow to act, those who launch cyberattacks are quick to exploit vulnerabilities, he said.

"This is a war that we will be fighting permanently, and I'm not sure we will ever be able to say that we won," Ridge said. "The tactics amount to a guerrilla war. In the past, during the Cold War, we could eliminate a threat if they breached the perimeter. Too often in cyber, the adversary is disguised and undetected, and no longer is their technology inferior."

Ridge said during an interview after his speech that cybersecurity should be a higher prioritybecause of the "immediacy of the challenge," including the growing threat that cyberattacks will soon be launched with artificial intelligence and the danger that some nations may respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks with conventional weapons.

The growth in the number and types of devices connected to the internet offers both promise and peril, Ridge said. "It's not just the internet of things but the internet of everything. We don't know the number of devices that will be connected to the internet by 2020, but we know it will be huge."

Ridge said most Americans believe Russia sought to influence the 2016 presidential election and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in his career had worked to destabilize and divide countries - and "he has done his job well."

He urged colleges and universities to develop new programs to train cybersecurity workers more quickly, perhaps with two-year degrees instead of four-year degrees and through apprenticeships. The nation's military services, he said, should allow disabled soldiers to work defending the nation against cyberattacks.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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