Nathan Bridge, News Editor
Last week, Utica College welcomed a famous spy onto its campus.
Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell visited UC to speak to students and the public about the mounting dangers of cyber threats and the important facets of cyber security. Admiral McConnell filled the Frank E. Gannett Library Concourse last Wednesday to issue his stark warning.
McConnell served under both Presidents Bush and Obama during his tenure as National Intelligence Director. His career has spanned over 30 years, filling a variety of roles including NSA director and former vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton. After retiring, he became an advisory board member of the Council of CyberSecurity.
McConnell has been a long-time crusader for cyber-security in the U.S. and uses his experiences and expertise to give talks about the importance of staying secure in the digital age.
He stressed three important facets about cyber-security throughout his talk: the threat by hackers and foreign governments, the importance of encrypting everyone’s data and the long road the U.S. has ahead in order to catch up to the digital threats surrounding us.
“An adversary could shut down telecommunications, drain your bank account and cause entire banking systems to shut down,” said McConnell, when explaining the danger of cyber attacks. “So this is important at every level; personal, business, strategic and national security because we’re digitally dependent and the nation doesn’t appreciate that.”
McConnell referenced the nation’s vulnerability in cases like the recent data breaches of Target and the Equifax Credit Bureau, in which millions of people’s personal information were compromised. He said he was actually glad that these large-scale breaches have occurred, because they force the public and the government to take the issue more seriously.
“It makes people pay attention,” McConnell said. “It’s not an existential threat. It’s an annoyance, it costs us some money, it’s a pain, but it’s not something that’s gonna cause the destruction of the country.”
McConnell did, however, say that it was important for the government to take a more serious stance on these problems before something more devastating happens and it is too late to prevent it.
“It’s a major issue; someone could run a couple of Acela trains together and kill a thousand people, that’ll get somebody’s attention,” McConnell said in a statement prior to the talk. “That’s doable, it’s all digitally controlled. They could shut down a banking system for two weeks, could you imagine? That would have strategic implications and strategic damage. I don’t know what it will be, but we’re either going to adjust to this methodically or we’re gonna adjust to it after the fact.”
McConnell indicated several times that the U.S. government has not done enough to combat cyber threats and ended the talk addressing present cybersecurity students and urging them to continue on their career path. He said that not only is the work extremely important going forward, but that they would have jobs for life, as the cybersecurity industry has approximately one million positions to fill.
“This has so fundamentally changed us,” McConnell said. “We need a Madison, Adams and a Jefferson for the digital age to think our way through this, so we get the right kind of checks and balances to preserve the sanctity of our system going forward in the digital age.”