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RSA 2014: Can the Government Earn Back the Public’s Trust in the Cyberfight?

Cybersecurity is no longer a niche subject for IT aficionados; it is a government problem, in addition to a mainstream, societal problem.

by / March 10, 2014

Cybersecurity issues grow in pop culture prominence as breaches become more pervasive. Last year, media outlets simmered with the news that Edward Snowden leaked documents exposing the agency’s global surveillance program, and today the flames have badly burned the NSA’s reputation.

The firestorm is what caused comedian Stephen Colbert to blast both the NSA and Snowden during his closing keynote at this year’s 2014 RSA Conference. Colbert, famous for hosting his political satire show The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, isn’t someone people would expect to speak before a live audience at a cybersecurity conference. A mainstream celebrity’s presence at RSA is evidence of the fact that cybersecurity is no longer a niche subject for IT aficionados.

Colbert’s appearance also speaks to the government link between society and information breaches. His claim to fame is the political satire and government commentary on his show, so his RSA visit underlines the fact that cybersecurity is a government problem on top of being a mainstream, societal problem.

But how can the American government work with the public to enhance cyberdefense if citizens are filled with mistrust?

“If you breach the trust in general in that context and then you’re saying, ‘We need to be able to guard that private user information but we have good intentions,’ the general citizenry will have a lack of trust. You’ll have a backlash,” said Jack LeGrand, Dell security specialist.

LeGrand’s colleague at Dell, Jackson Shaw, senior director of product management, felt that the government could take an active role in offering cyberfitness advice via public service announcements, which would improve the government’s image.

“I’m sure they could come up with something catchy,” he said. “I really think that one of the things that’s missing, that the government could help with, is just educating the everyday person about email and about phishing scams, those kind of things where a lot of these threats start.”

But regardless, the government, along with the private sector, will always have to play catch up with the bad guys.

“I think the greatest challenge we have in the year ahead is figuring out ways to get defenses that can match up with the offensive capabilities that, as a whole, the world is struggling against,” said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research.

This is the first video in a series of five. Visit tomorrow to view more highlights from RSA 2014. 

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Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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