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Hickenlooper touts 'Modem Millie' to promote cyber safety

November 15, 2016 Updated: November 15, 2016 at 3:47 pm
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In this Jan. 4, 2015 photo, a computer, modem and intranet network cabling sit on a desk. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Get ready for Millie the Modem, or something like her.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday during a panel discussion at The Broadmoor hotel that the cybersecurity industry needs an icon like Smokey the Bear or McGruff the Crime Dog to promote online safety.

"Kids today are born pushing buttons and using smartphones and other devices. How do we make them aware of the risk?" Hickenlooper told reporters and photographers during the panel at the Cyber Institute, the kickoff event for the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs. "Just as Smokey Bear was successful preventing forest fires, only you can prevent hacks, and that could help raise awareness of cybersecurity."

While many Americans have been a victim of identity theft from cyber criminals or know someone who has, Hickenlooper said few people understand the importance of cybersecurity to a state or the entire nation and aren't willing to devote many resources to improve cybersecurity to prevent or stop hacks. He suggested that the center, which he helped found and secure funding for its eventual home, should play a role in raising that awareness.

That risk is highlighted by the $40 million South Carolina officials have spent since a 2012 hack into the state Department of Revenue's database in which 3.8 million Social Security numbers, 3.3 million bank account numbers and information for nearly 700,000 businesses were stolen, said Jim Smith, a panel member who is Maine's chief information officer. That hack allegedly resulted from an employee clicking on a link in a phishing email message, which then allowed the hacker to install a back door into the department's computer system.

The three-day institute attracted more than 300 participants, including 77 elected officials from 10 states, to discuss topics ranging from how states and cities can protect themselves during a cyber breech, cyber risk responsibility and cybersecurity initiatives, budget priortization and spending challenges. The center began operating Nov. 1 in temporary office space to help small and mid-sized business recover from cyberattacks, educate public and business officials about cybersecurity and conduct cybersecurity research and help train the industry's workforce.

Many data breaches aren't widely reported because businesses don't want to disclose them but publicly traded companies eventually may be required to reveal such breaches, said Rick Crandall, a center board member and founder of Comshare Inc., which pioneered computer timesharing services in the 1960s.

Ed Rios, CEO of the cybersecurity center, said federal regulations will require by the end of next year that all companies holding government contracts or subcontracts will be required to meet cybersecurity criteria, a requirement he speculated eventually could be expanded to the state level.

Hickenlooper also said he is in discussion with legislators to provide funding for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to continue developing a national cybersecurity research center to boost such research in the state, which he said would "bring a lot of benefit to the state."

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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