Two Samsung employees discuss the challenges of the digital age with an attendee of the Cyberspace Symposium on Feb. 8 in the event’s Microsoft Exhibit Hall, which hosted 110 vendors.
Two Samsung employees discuss the challenges of the digital age with an attendee of the Cyberspace Symposium on Feb. 8 in the event’s Microsoft Exhibit Hall, which hosted 110 vendors.

The future is now.

Perhaps the most recent evidence of that is an ongoing international discussion about how to confront growing security threats posed by a new generation of internet-connected consumer goods such as cars, home appliances, watches and even diapers.

Governments across the globe are considering the very real possibility of growth in “denial-of-service” attacks — as well as violations of personal privacy — via the myriad of devices that comprise what has become known as the “Internet of Things.”

“Warning: This fridge is hackable,” is one disclaimer that could soon appear on wifi-enabled refrigerators in the European Union, according to a report by Politico.

Experts consider one of the most-pressing issues facing the brave new world of technology — which now accounts for more than 5 billion devices worldwide — to be the fact that an inordinately small number of these internet-connected devices are manufactured with security concerns in mind.

In fact, there are no U.S. security standards to prevent threats from becoming realities for owners of wifi-enabled devices, many designed without the ability to update software and firmware packages to keep up with the latest mechanisms for cyber-attack prevention.

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The Internet of Things was the prevailing theme at the 2017 Cyberspace Symposium (Feb. 6-9 at The Broadmoor), a program of the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association (Rocky Mountain Chapter) that attracted more than 2,000 attendees and 110 vendors, as well as keynote speeches from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Air Force Space Command’s Gen. John W. Raymond.

“Our symposium provides a national forum for industry and government to work together to help solve the challenges of cybersecurity, community cyber readiness and national defense,” according to the event’s website.

Although the trend provides increased efficiency for users of IoT devices, it also makes the cyberspace terrain more complex with new and different kinds of threats, as well as further questions about how to tackle cybersecurity in a new age of technological advancement.

A panel discussion at the event on Feb. 8 addressed these issues from an industry perspective, but with government, private sector and education represented. The panel was moderated by Air Force Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Harry Raduege, who serves as senior adviser to New York-based accounting firm Deloitte and managing director of the company’s Center for Cyber Innovation.

The panelists were:

• John Stewart, senior vice president, as well as chief security and trust officer, for California-based tech company Cisco Systems;

• Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor of UCCS;

• Stephen Alexander, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Maryland-based telecommunications firm Ciena Corporation; and

• U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Bill Donahue, who now serves as executive vice president of Maryland-based IT company Sytel Inc.

The four panelists delivered comments on the topic from their spheres of influence.

“Today, we find ourselves faced with the absolute exponential growth in the Internet of Things,” Raduege said.

He said that, from a post-military and governmental perspective, networks are vulnerable to attack, law enforcement related to cyber crime is difficult and partisan politics prevent the passage of vital cybersecurity legislation.

“The cyber threats to the Internet of Things are increasing in frequency; they’re increasing in sophistication; they’re increasing in impact to every sector of the digital environment and they’re gaining the attention of all levels of the public and private sectors — both nationally and internationally,” according to Raduege.

To emphasize the pervasive nature of these threats, Stewart’s opening statement focused on illustrating the ubiquity and varied applications of such technologies.

“Last year, an entire herd of cows joined the internet,” he said of new tracking methods taken by some ranchers to monitor the health and migratory patterns of their livestock.

“Trees are online. … There is actually a tree in Belgium that tweets. … There are diapers that are actually online now that you can connect to with an app on your phone.”

Shockley-Zalabak, who retired Wednesday after 15 years at the university, said she believes there needs to be a new model of collaboration and innovation between educational institutions, the government and the private sector to tackle the quandaries of this new age.

“I think that a new model is not something that is controversial,” she said. “We need our public, private and nonprofit institutions working together in new ways to bring about the kinds of protection and advancement to offensive systems relative to realizing the potential of the Internet of Things.”

Shockley-Zalabak said that when she considers the theme from an educational perspective — as well as one of protection from cyber crime, cyber warfare and privacy violations — there are three main objectives:

• Workforce development;

• Staying current and relevant; and

• Moving from a defensive to an offensive posture.

“That calls for some pretty sophisticated research in terms of product design and development,” she said.

She also said that she thinks experts should work toward researching the behavioral psychology behind cyber attacks to better understand and thwart threats.

“That research needs to meld better than it has in the past with behavioral science,” she said.

“Why people do what they do, how they do what they do and how we can actually predict some of the behaviors that have become so destructive in our modern environment.”