Obama vows to protect power grid
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
During his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, President Barack Obama made it clear his administration will focus on protecting the nation from cyberattacks.
“Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems,” Obama said. “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”
Congress needs to pass legislation to help secure US computer networks, Obama said. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a press release on Feb. 6 that the country is targeted by “thousands of cyberattacks every day.”
“We have got to have the capability to stay ahead of this new challenge in the face of what I believe is a growing threat to our economy and a growing threat to our critical infrastructure,” Panetta said.
With national policy makers realizing the importance of cybersecurity, the university has started a seminar this semester based on the subject.
Electrical and computer engineering professor Chase Cotton said he teaches the course along with Stephan Bohacek, a fellow professor in the department.
“Cybersecurity is really a new word for an old term,” Cotton said. “It stands for computer and network security—security for the computer itself and how computers talk to one another.”
Cotton said 64 students enrolled in the class, including computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics and business majors. JPMorgan Chase paid to develop the class, Cotton said.
However, cybersecurity isn’t just for technical majors, Cotton said. He said he hopes the university creates a multidisciplinary major.
“If it became a major, there would definitely be a policy course,” he said. “A big part of cybersecurity is procedures for criminal evidence.”
He said the course will touch on a wide array of topics, including a an overview on cryptography, the science of securing communication using codes.
Electrical engineering major Christopher Abrahamsen enrolled in the class after he participated in an internship focused on cybersecurity this past summer. Abraham said he is interested in the class because of a passion to understand how devices work.
“Learning about the hacking techniques used by ‘bad guys’ interests me because it helps me understand how devices and computer networks function, as well as teaches me ways to secure a system,” Abrahamsen said.
The more he becomes aware of the use of computer networks for everything from personal finance to national security, the more he thinks it is important for users to secure themselves, Abrahamsen said.
Cotton said there a few steps anyone can take in order to secure their devices, such as keeping operating software up to date, purchasing and maintaining antivirus software and avoiding opening emails from unknown addresses.
In the cybersecurity world, Anonymous, a group infamous for hacking into the US Justice Department, is known for making political statements through their ability to manipulate cybersecurity, Cotton said. The group tends to exploit corporations and government organizations and release sensitive documents to the public.
“They’re super whistle-blowers with exotic tools,” he said. “And it’s hard to pin them down because they’re not a formal organization. And hard to understand — is it Anonymous, or is it not?”
Senior electrical engineering major Safwat Saad said he has never been hacked but is enrolled in the class this semester because he realized the importance of staying secure.
“Everything connects online,” Saad said. “Everything is going out and you don’t know where it goes.”
High profile attacks, such as the hack on the PlayStation Network and daily hacks of Twitter accounts, made Saad more aware of his need of online protection, even though he has no plans to pursue cybersecurity as a career path, he said.
Cotton said he wants to clarify the image of the prototypical hacker, which is often misconstrued by Hollywood. He said movies are somewhat realistic, but they sensationalize the techniques hackers employ.
“It doesn’t represent the nominal person doing cyber exploits today,” he said.