Lecture Focuses on Cybersecurity Challenges

  • P.W. Singer, who is a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, discussed the development of misplaced priorities in cybersecurity at the ATEC lecture.

Political scientist and 21st-century warfare specialist P.W. Singer touched on the real and perceived dangers of an ever-expanding cyberspace as part of the ATEC Distinguished Lecture Series on Nov. 12.

Singer, who is a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, discussed the development of misplaced priorities within cybersecurity in a world that is largely dependent on technology and the Internet. He explored the topic in his book, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know.

“The centrality of computers to my life and your life is almost impossible to fathom,” Singer said. “We live in a world where more than 40 trillion emails are sent a year. The first website was made in 1991, and since then, more than 30 trillion websites inhabit the Internet.”

Singer said the Internet is no longer just a tool for compiling and sharing information but a system that has an impact in the world via the emergence of the “Internet of Things.”

Citing Cisco, he said more than 40 billion Internet-enabled devices will be created over the next five years, as everything from cars to refrigerators and not-yet-invented technologies all come online.

“In the short history of the Internet, I would argue that we’ve reached a critical turning point,” he said. “It’s because while the positive side of cyberspace is rippling out, so too are the risks.”

Singer said that too often people navigate this space without the proper tools or understanding, which results in some threats being overblown, while other, more potent threats are ignored. This ambiguity is intensified when we consider people in positions of power — like business executives and government officials — who make cybersecurity decisions without the proper training.

Oftentimes, the finer points of cyberattacks are glossed over, and these activities are bundled together simply because they involve software.

“It’s been treated as an issue only for the ‘IT’ crowd — the information technology folks,” he said. “In turn, the technical community that understands the working of the software and the hardware hasn’t dealt very well with the wetware — the human side.”

He said an inability to gauge the severity of threats turns into a misapplication of resources to face them.

“Strategy, whether it’s at the national, business or individual level, is about choices and priorities,” he said. “So, we need to weigh the centrality of what we talk about, what we obsess about in our discussions versus the more consequential threats.”

Singer said issues like intellectual property theft are much more pressing problems in the realm of cybersecurity.

Individuals can take simple measures regarding “cyber-hygiene” that can have an immense impact, allowing IT specialists to redirect their focus on larger issues.

“Cyber-hygiene,” which refers to good cybersecurity habits to help keep your devices free of malware, acts as a preventive measure.

“I teach my kids hygiene — to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough — not only to protect themselves but also to protect all who they connect with. That’s the same kind of ethic we need in the online space,” Singer said.

“We have to accept and manage the risks of this online world because of all that can be achieved in it, and in the end, that’s really what everyone needs to know.”

The lecture series, presented by The Dallas Morning News, will be held in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which houses programs that explore topics at the intersection of arts and technology.

The speakers for the remainder of this season are:

March 22, 7:30 p.m.

Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour,aviation pioneer, author, motivational speaker

April 14, 7:30 p.m.

Chris Johns, chief content officer,National Geographic Society 

Tickets and Parking

Prices are $15 and $20 for seats in the lower level of the ATEC Building’s lecture hall.

Staff and faculty members can purchase up to four tickets that will be discounted by $5. Emails with a discount code will be sent to staff and faculty.

Students with a valid Comet Card can get free balcony tickets at Ticketing Assistance, ATC 1.201, beginning one hour before the lecture. One ticket per student. First come, first served.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

For directions and parking, see this map.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].