IBM hosted a Cyber Security Leadership Summit in Boston on November 18. The speakers included the firm’s chief Privacy Officer, a director of cyber security policy and one of DHS’s cyber leaders. They were followed by a panel that included a representative of a large Boston Bank, a Massachusetts State Police Cyber Crime expert, Harvard University’s head of IT and a senior Emergency manager for the City of Boston.

It was interesting for someone like me (who is constantly immersed in the Washington discussions on cyber issues) to hear cyber security discussed as a local issue. For these folks, it is not an intellectual or philosophical discussion; it is not even the grand strategic problem we normally hear about in DC. It is a tactical and completely real issue that has implications for people whose faces these men know.

They spoke of the danger to their carefully built post-9/11 first responder capabilities. They have greatly enhanced communications systems and can move faster and with more precision than ever before. They rightly acknowledge that all that wonderful new stuff rides on the Internet, and if an incident occurs coupled with a cyber assault on those systems, there is a problem. Washington might consider a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack a nuisance event, but on the municipal level, if the timing is tied to a kinetic event or natural disaster, it will quickly become a major catastrophe.

These local, city and state leaders know well what they will bring to the table in such an event, but there is still clearly a knowledge gap as to what the federal government will bring. We need to do a better job of educating these key players who will frankly be the leaders on the ground in any incident. The Feds will work for the locals, and it is in the federal government’s interests to have them as prepared as possible. Additionally, in the cyber area, the Feds do not themselves know how they might respond.

This experience left me with two main feelings. One was that IBM is right to reach out to this level of our nation’s leadership. The private sector can and must partner with them and help build the right structures. The other feeling was that I had just met with the front line troops in our nation’s domestic defense. They are ready, already doing a huge amount of work and are looking for assistance. We should help them protect our families.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More