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Former Director of National Intelligence talks cybersecurity at Utica College


The nation’s former top intelligence official spoke at Utica College Wednesday night, and told students that the United States is a nation at risk.

Retired Adm. Mike McConnell is the former Director of National Intelligence  under President George W. Bush. He issued a stark warning about the mounting threat of cyberattacks during his talk Wednesday night. He said cyberattacks from governments or even individual hackers could shut down telecommunications, drain people’s bank accounts and even cause entire banking systems to shut down.

“So this important at every level, personal, business, strategic, national security, because we’re digitally dependent and the nation doesn’t appreciate that,” said McConnell.

He said that digital dependence makes us vulnerable, While he said  not enough has been done to protect against cybercrime,  he thought there was a silver lining to recent breach of Target and the Equifax Credit Bureau, as they were a wake-up call to the American public.

“I’m actually glad that it’s happening because it makes people pay attention,” he said. “It’s not an existential threat. It’s an annoyance, it costs us some money, it’s a pain, but it’s not something that’s gonna cause the destruction of the country.”

And he said it should prompt the U.S. to prepare for a cyberattack on a more devastating scale, attacks that could shut down the economy.

“Nation states, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, they’re building zero-day malware attack tools by the thousands each year,” McConnell said.

He also argued that security against cyberattacks means ALL data should be encrypted, even though it might make it harder to solve crimes.

“My law enforcement friends don’t like that answer, because now it gives potential safe harbor to a criminal,” he said.

The government and cybersecurity agencies have a lot of work to catch up, because the internet is growing so rapidly. McConnell acknowledged the complications and challenges ahead.

“This has so fundamentally changed us,” he said. “We need a Madison, an Adams, and a Jefferson for the digital age, to think our way through this, so we get the right kind of checks and balances to preserve the sanctity of our system going forward in the digital age.”

McConnell told students that the U.S. is one million jobs short in cybersecurity and those pursuing that career path would be would have a job for life.

Nate Bridge is a student at Utica College and part of the New York Reporting Project at Utica College