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Strong Defense Not Enough To Secure U.S. Cyber Space, Says Cohen

Former Defense Secretary tells UMUC Cybersecurity Scholarship Gala Attendees U.S. Must be Prepared to Strike as Events Warrant

Gil Klein
By Gil Klein
  • Cybersecurity

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen says America must rely on much more than defense mechanisms to protect the United States in cyber space. It must be prepared to go on the offensive against hackers and attackers who threaten the nation’s vital infrastructure.

"Just playing defense is not good enough," Cohen told some 400 guests attending University of Maryland University College’s cybersecurity scholarship gala in the Gaylord Convention Center at National Harbor April 6.

"If you are only playing defense, you are going to lose," Cohen said. "You have to deter, but at some point you have to go on the attack."

That, he said, is the mission of the Pentagon's Cyber Command created by President Obama in 2010. It is designed to defend the Department of Defense against attacks, he said, and to work with private business and local governments to protect the nation’s essential systems.

"But it must be able to go on the attack and be able to retaliate," he said. That will be extraordinarily difficult given how easy it is to hide the sources of attack.

"We have to have the best minds available," Cohen said, "and that is one reason UMUC is so important to our security. We are training some of the best and brightest to help protect us against threats today that will intensify tomorrow."

Those threats are becoming ever more complicated, he said, and they will "actually pose an existential threat to our country."

Despite all of the technological change that has exploded in recent years, Cohen said, it is just the beginning. "We are on the edge of a technological revolution the likes of which we have not even begun to imagine." That revolution will spread democracy, knowledge and communication in ways that will change patterns of global life.

But all that promise, he said, comes with peril.

"Today our military spends as much time defending nodes and networks as it does defending sea lanes and air space," he said. "There's no respite in sight."

The challenge, he said, is to identify who could shut down the nation’s critical systems, why they would do it, how to identify who did it and what should be the nation’s response.

"Cyber warfare, when combined with cyber espionage, theft, terrorism and crime constitutes one of the gravest threats we have faced," he said.

He praised UMUC’s cybersecurity students for their commitment to the country and for furthering their education while maintaining full-time jobs. He also lauded UMUC for creating a cybersecurity program that combines education with practical experience.

"This integration with faculty, students and the business community is so important to providing real-life experience," Cohen said.

Cohen was introduced to the audience of students and political, military, corporate and civic leaders, by Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr. (USAF, Ret.), the former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency who now serves as chairman of the Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation and also chairs the UMUC Cybersecurity Advisory Board.

Cybersecurity Awards

UMUC also honored two luminaries in cybersecurity during the event. Tony Sager, who retired last year from the National Security Agency after a 35-year career in which he focused on security testing, analysis and guidance, received the UMUC Pioneer in Cybersecurity Award.

During his career at NSA, Sager headed groups that were responsible for some of the agency’s most important advancements in cyber defense.

Karen Evans, who serves as the national director of the talent search and skills development organization known as U.S. Cyber Challenge, received the UMUC Leadership in Cybersecurity Award.

Among several other high-level positions within the federal government, Evans is the former administrator for E-Government and Information Technology in the Office of Management and Budget, where she helped oversee implementation of IT throughout the executive branch.

UMUC Alumnus and Former Hostage in Iran in Attendance

The gala's master of ceremonies, Brigadier General Bernard K. Skoch (USAF, Ret.) acknowledged special guests in attendance including William E. Quarles, one of the Americans held hostage in Iran during the crisis of 1979 and 1980.

Quarles, who earned a bachelor's degree from UMUC in 1994, was a U.S. Marine Sergeant assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, when the compound was attacked and overtaken. He is now working on a master's degree at UMUC and is the recipient of one of the university's Wounded Warrior scholarships.

Successful Fundraiser

The gala raised nearly $600,000 with proceeds going to fund cybersecurity scholarships. The event attracted a broad range of industry leaders including John Mills, special assistant for cybersecurity to the Secretary of Defense; Dr. Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet who is now vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google; and Maryland State Del. Susan C. Lee (District 16-Montgomery) and State Sen. Catherine Pugh (District 40, Baltimore City), co-chairs of the Maryland Commission on Cybersecurity Innovation and Excellence.

"I am proud to report that, as of this evening, we have 11 scholarship funds dedicated to cybersecurity education," UMUC President Javier Miyares, announced at the event. "Since the fall of 2011, nearly 300 cybersecurity students have received more than half a million dollars in scholarship support."

Contributing to those scholarships are the Deloitte Cybersecurity Award, Gerencser Family Scholarship Fund for Cypersecurity Students, Lockheed Martin Master’s Level Information Assurance Assistanceships Program, ManTech International Corporation Scholarship Fund, NJVC Endowed Scholarship Fund, The Open System Sciences Scholarship Fund, SAIC/UMUC Mentored Scholarship Fund, Sotera Defense Solutions, Inc. Scholarship Fund, The URS Wounded Warrior Scholarship Fund, and Verizon Scholarships for Cybersecurity Students.

The lead sponsor of the gala was Pearson, PLC. Other key sponsors included SAIC, Booze Allen Hamilton, Cisco, Northrop Grumman, URS, AT&T, Richard F. Blewitt, CACI, Cyberpoint and Google.

UMUC launched its cyber security programs in 2010. Today, more than 5,000 students—including active duty service members—are enrolled in the bachelor's and master's degree programs.