Saturday, September 5, 2009

UGA to convene cybersecurity panel Sept. 11

Nationally recognized experts will come to the University of Georgia on Sept. 11 to teach university and community members how to protect themselves from cyberterrorism during “The Growing Cybersecurity Threat: From National Security to UGA,” a free panel discussion running from 10 a.m.–noon at the UGA Chapel.

As information sharing and Internet use become cornerstones of the average person’s wired life, keeping up-to-date about growing threats is increasingly important, said John Newton, event organizer and emergency operation coordinator in UGA’s Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Center for International Trade and Security and Enterprise Information Technology Services.

“There’s been an explosion of cybersecurity threats over the past few years that affect everyone from governments and the military down to people who shop or do business online,” Newton said. “It’s something that reaches most of us nearly every day, and because the threats change rapidly it’s important to keep re-learning how to combat them.”

The panel will consist of FBI Special Agent Lee Kirschbaum; Brian Rivers, director of information security at UGA, and Kevin Mandia, a cybersecurity expert and owner of the information security firm Mandiant Systems

“As far as information security risks and threats, they always change, but for the most part the university has changed and adapted along with the threats,” Rivers said. “But threats continue to evolve. People are getting better at attacking us. Over the last 10 years there’s been a shift from people hacking for fun to people hacking for profit. It’s now big business overseas.”

As Web surfers increase their online business transactions and store more personal information on the Internet, the availability of data to potentially harmful sources ramps up. Over-the-net business is overwhelmingly safe, but it’s important to be watchful for new trends in hacking, said Kirschbaum, who works at the Atlanta FBI headquarters.

“We want to make folks at UGA aware of some of the threats that are out there, so if they come up, they may sense them. When you’re in academia and doing research, the propensity is to share your information with anybody and everybody because we all want to see knowledge advance,” Kirschbaum said. “But at times the information you’re giving out can be too sensitive. People may begin to ask questions that are too probing, and at that point in time we want people to realize that this maybe something that they should let law enforcement know about.”

Modern hackers use a variety of computer intrusion techniques like unsolicited e-mails, malware and programs embedded on thumb drives that can invade entire computer networks and send back users’ private information, he said. A one-computer virus does not rate the same threat level as it did a few years ago.

Beyond personal and professional significance, the issue has national prominence as well. Cyberterrorism grabbed worldwide headlines in July, when the U.S. and South Korea fell victims to an orchestrated network attack. While no major harm was done, the incident revealed computer weaknesses in the governments that could have been disastrous and caused renewed interest in cyber health, said Igor Khripunov, interim director of the Center for International Trade and Security.

“The newly-announced U.S. Cyber Command will likely make great strides in protecting national-level critical infrastructure and systems from cyberterrorists,” he said. “However, other systems are at risk, including those here at the University of Georgia.”

“According to the Homeland Security Department, cyber attacks on federal computer systems alone have increased by more than 250 percent over the last two years,” he added. “But a few fundamental management changes—centralized management of information technology systems, better education and training, and tougher access control—could prevent man of the most common attacks.”

The event is part of OSEP’s Academic-Professional Security Series. For more information, see www.osep.uga.edu.

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