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Beating back threat of cyber-attacks

Cyber security concep with lock. credit: iStock

Cyber security concep with lock. credit: iStock Photo Credit: iStock

Seventy-five years ago, facing World War II, Long Island made a transformation from potato fields and pumpkin farms to become the defense capital of America. We organized and mobilized, researched and developed, engineered and assembled. We built technologies that won World War II, the Cold War and went on to win the space race. America's global strength might as well have had a label: Made on Long Island. And our middle-class economy was strong.

Recently we faced a new threat: the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment allegedly by North Korea was an act of economic terrorism, designed to inflict loss, change our behavior, frighten us and put us on notice that we are vulnerable. President Barack Obama is expected to underscore cybersecurity during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The attack is not isolated. Millions of Americans remember last winter's data breach at Target Corp., when as many as 110 million customers' names, credit card numbers and billing addresses were stolen by cyber criminals. In a similar attack on Home Depot in September, more than 50 million debit and credit cards were put at risk. The Department of Homeland Security said in August that more than 1,000 American businesses may have been attacked.

Even our critical infrastructure is vulnerable. Keith Alexander, the retired general in charge of cyber security for the National Security Agency, told Congress in June 2013 that, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 the most secure, he would put the United States at a three when considering how prepared our critical infrastructure is to withstand a cyber-attack.

It's no surprise then that as the federal budget shrinks, one area of growth will be in the field of cyber defense.

This is an opportunity for Long Island. We need to replicate the know-how we used to become the defense capital of America and become the cyber defense capital of America.

Nearly three years ago, I formed the Long Island Cyber Defense Consortium. I believed then that nobody on Long Island understood the magnitude of the threat or the opportunities to address it. Then I confirmed what we all know: On Long Island, everyone is doing something, but no one knows what anyone else is doing.

We began breaking down barriers by meeting to discuss cooperation; we brought the secretary of Homeland Security and members of Congress with expertise in cyber intelligence to meet with local companies and institutions. We did a survey of the cyber defense competencies among Long Island companies.

The result? We know just how well-positioned our region is. From small start-ups with exquisite encryption technologies to CA Technologies, from our colleges and universities to The Morrelly Center on Homeland Security in Bethpage, Long Island is filled with many 21st century Leroy Grummans.

Now we should foster closer cooperation between these players. Long Island high schools, colleges and universities must assess their curricula to ensure we are educating the next generation of cyber warriors. We need more connections between schools and businesses in the field of cyber defense. The investment community should understand the massive economic opportunity in cyber technologies. Local governments and nonprofits must build a plan to showcase our capabilities to the federal procurement community.

In October 1957, the Russians beat us to space with Sputnik. That ignited a national effort rooted on Long Island. Today we don't need to land Americans on the moon. We need to protect their ability to see a movie without threats from economic terrorists and pay at a store without fear that their information is being hacked.

And Long Island can lead the way.

Rep. Steve Israel is a Democrat from Huntington.


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