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A New Call to Action - Backstage at the Michigan Cyber Summit

Governor Snyder quickly raised the bar: "If people walk away tomorrow saying that we had a nice conference with good speakers, we will have failed. We need everyone walking away saying that it is time to act now on cyber whatever their role."

It was Thursday night, October 6, 2011, and we were listening to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder share his thoughts on the soon-to-be launched Michigan Cyber Initiative. About seventy-five Fortune 500 technology and defense executives, leaders from federal, state and local governments, university presidents, keynote speakers and other VIPs were gathered at the Eastern Michigan University in preparation for the Cyber Summit the next day. The picturesque room, overlooking a golf course with a lake, was decorated with Detroit Tiger banners, in preparation for game five between the Tigers and Yankees in a few hours.  

Governor Snyder quickly raised the bar: “If people walk away tomorrow saying that we had a nice conference with good speakers, we will have failed. We need everyone walking away saying that it is time to act now on cyber – whatever their role.”

Who Spoke?

While only time will tell if we achieved that ambitious goal, the Michigan Cyber Summit was unlike any previous technology event that I’ve ever experienced. Here are a few of the reasons why:

The agenda was packed with featured speakers including:

- Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

- Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security 

- Howard Schmidt, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator and Special Assistant to the President

- Congressmen John Dingell, Mike Rogers and  Hansen Clarke

In addition to our public sector leaders, the lunch keynote presentation by Richard Stiennon offered an informative and thought-provoking global view on cyber.

The afternoon breakout panels in five tracks contained participants that are generally tough to get as keynote speakers for other events - with senior execs from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Symantec, AT&T, Comcast, Unisys, IBM and many others.

 National Cybersecurity Awareness Month Kickoff:

 The event was designated as the national kickoff for Cybersecurity Awareness Month and was streamed live on Facebook. As I walked around yesterday, I kept running into people from all over the country that are well-known cyber experts – who weren’t even speaking. I suspect this was because our partners got onboard and helped recruit many of the best to be there. These partners included groups like the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Washtenaw County Cyber Citizenship Coalition, the Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) and DHS’s National Cyber Security Division (NCSD).    

The local media coverage as well as the national press coverage was excellent, with very positive feedback. Some of the coverage included:

WDIC Detroit - Michigan Announces Cyber Initiative

 SC Magazine – Cybersecurity Awareness Month Launched

Sacramento Bee: Facebook Live Covers National Cybersecurity Month Launch

Smart Grid: Secretary Napolitano’s Remarks at the Michigan Cyber Security Summit

 Looking Back and Forward

This was actually our 4th Cyber Summit in Michigan, with the first cyber summit being held in 2008. However, there is no comparison between this event and the first three that we held. Not only was attendance three times higher this time (600 v 200), the participants, buy-in and level of discussion were at an entirely different level. (The summit was actually sold-out more than two weeks in advance.) We had a nice beginning in 2008, but this is a new day with a new sense of urgency.

The bottom line is that Governor Snyder clearly is passionate about this cybersecurity topic. He “gets it” when it comes to the importance of Internet safety and online protection in every aspect of our economy. He also sees this issue in economic terms - with plans for growing private sector technology and cybersecurity jobs in the state. More than that, he is leading the charge and driving the change in “dog years.” His leadership and the support of everyone around him is bringing new partners around the country, allowing this event to happen quickly (only 12 weeks of planning).

The next question becomes: so what? Or perhaps: now what? We have some momentum and high expectations. The time for specific action is now. Our state has new partners at another higher level of engagement on this issue. Many sidebar planning meetings occurred that will help propel new projects within the Michigan Cyber Initiative forward with support and aggressive timeline for deliverables. You can learn more about this and see our toolkit at

Final Thought

 When I first became CISO in May 2002, we built the Secure Michigan Initiative in eight months - but gaining top-level executive buy-in was a battle. I was proud of our team's pioneering efforts given the resources we were provided. That plan delivered a bottom-up approach to transforming state IT security at the time, but the going got tougher as other priorities often trumped cybersecurity. Still, we did eventually implement almost two-thirds of that security plan on a smaller-than-expected budget. 

  Coming back as Michigan's new CSO - with physical and cybersecurity in one office, I see the Michigan Cyber Initiative differently. Our previous plans never received this much attention - which is a good and bad thing. Admittedly, the threat landscape has changed. Now, we not only have the Governor’s full support, but his leadership and experience on this cybersecurity issue. I think that we can accomplish much more with that clear priority and stronger executive support, but the stakes are higher as well. The plan is ambitious, but so are the challenges that face each state and our nation in cyberspace.

  I am an optimist and a believer in the Internet’s ability to transform government service delivery for the better, but the bad guys are also getting better online as well. From cloud computing to smartphones to the smartgrid, state and local government efforts on cybersecurity will enable or disable innovation.

The reality is that many criminals and other countries are ahead of us. We have work to do. We must partner in new ways. Time will tell if we succeed.

What are your thoughts on this cyber challenge in 2011?  

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.