Insight by American Military University

Protecting cyber assets is essential as the internet touches every part of life

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the topic has never been more poignant than in 2020.  With the internet permeating into everything from refrigerators to bathroom scales and an election nearing, protecting cyber assets is top of mind.

This is the 17th year of Cybersecurity Awareness Month and Kevin Harris, cybersecurity program director at American Military University, says a lot has changed since those early days.

Harris said in the past it was mostly big institutions that had to worry about protecting cyber assets, but now, with smartphones and the internet of things, cybersecurity is a problem everyone faces.

“The first thing is us, as a user, being aware of the vulnerabilities and the fact that our data is out there,” Harris said as part of a Federal Insights discussion sponsored by American Military University. “Most of the time for renting a car we’re concerned with insurance on a vehicle, what’s our liability there? But now, we looking at that rental agreement and saying ‘What happens with this data?’ If I sync my phone, who owns it? Who has access to the GPS on the car while we’re driving?”

Harris said the first step in being cyber secure is being aware of where and how you, as a consumer, may be compromised.

Even medical devices like pacemakers can be compromised by hackers.

“It’s a convenience, and in this case, can improve someone’s quality of life,” Harris said. “But again, it is a vulnerability. If vulnerabilities aren’t addressed properly, it could be life threatening. It’s something that these companies and a the user also needs to be aware of. If there is a vulnerability then address it. Get that system patched or that vulnerability fixed.”

While hacks and intrusions can affect people personally, they can also have large-scale impacts as well.

Just as the internet is connected to everything in our lives, it’s also connected to everything larger institutions use as well. Things like water treatment plants, power plants and hospitals all rely on the internet to keep things running.

“We need a collaborative effort between private entities and also government agencies to make sure that the things that keep our life functioning on a day to day are protected,” Harris said. “A lot of these systems, we talk about utility systems, they are interconnected.”

Right now, government and industry are working to understand their needs in this realm. New laws allow companies and federal agencies to share information about hacks and vulnerabilities. The National Guard has cyber units that work to bolster cybersecurity in critical infrastructure.

The election is one of those infrastructures the U.S. is trying to protect right now. The National Guard will be providing election network security.

“One of the good things is that our electronic voting machines are air gapped, meaning that they are not connected with external networks, so greatly reduces the risk of a hack,” Harris said. “The majority of our electronic voting machines do have a paper audit trail associated with it, which again, drastically reduces hacks. So our voting process is secure.”

However, tech companies are still grappling with false information spewing from trolls, Russian infiltrators and other problem areas.

“If people are able to manipulate information after the fact, then one of the risks would be calling into question the results of the election,” Harris said. “Before and after the election, it’s really important that our tech companies make sure the information relayed is accurate. We’re all in this together.”

Internet of Things

The first thing is us, as a user, being aware of the vulnerabilities and the fact that our data is out there. Most of the time for renting a car we're concerned with insurance on a vehicle, what's our liability there? But now, we looking at that rental agreement and saying ‘What happens with this data?’ If I sync my phone, who owns it? Who has access to the GPS on the car while we're driving?

Critical Infrastructure

We need a collaborative effort between private entities and also government agencies to make sure that the things that keep our life functioning on a day to day are protected. A lot of these systems, we talk about utility systems, they are interconnected.

Cybersecurity Workforce

If people are able to manipulate information after the fact, then one of the risks would be calling into question the results of the election. Before and after the election, it's really important that our tech companies make sure the information relayed is accurate. We're all in this together.

Listen to the full show: 

Featured speakers

  • Dr. Kevin Harris

    Program Director, Cybersecurity, Information Systems Security and Information Technology, American Military University

  • Scott Maucione

    Defense Reporter, Federal News Network

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