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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Global Game Changers: Cybersecurity Event

Category: National
May, 2018
Cosmos Club

Global Game Changers: Cybersecurity

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Welcome, everyone. My thanks to Mr. Don Drechsler of the Rensselaer Classes of 1989 and 1990, President of our Washington, DC, and Baltimore alumni chapter for his leadership.

I also thank Ms. Lucy Thomson of the Class of 2001, who will be joining our panel in a few minutes, for sponsoring us in this wonderful venue as a member of the Cosmos Club.

This evening, we will enjoy the latest in our Global Game Changers series, which brings together our alumni and alumnae who are leaders in their fields, along with distinguished Rensselaer faculty and administrative leaders—to consider the most exciting developments at the nexus of technology, business, government, and academe.

Today, we are going to discuss cybersecurity in what has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution—a revolution in which the digital, physical, and biological worlds are merging.

Before this current age of interconnection, the security of our information systems was largely about disaster recovery—the physical protection of data from a power outage or a flood.

Today, digital information no longer sits behind a moat. Instead, it lives within an ecosystem where there are bad actors ranging from hackers whose purpose is mischief, to cybercriminals, to cyberterrorists, to states engaging in cyberwarfare—all capable of exploiting infinite points of entry.

The more digital data we generate, the harder and harder it is to protect—as the surface area of exposure becomes larger and larger. The threat is end-to-end—beginning with the chips themselves, as we have move to a foundry model in which design and manufacture are separated; extending through the operating system, and networks that are readily compromised by a proliferation of "Internet of Things" connected devices with weak security controls; and accelerating with increasing use of "edge computing," or computation and analytics at the level of the device, in order eliminate transmission times in moving data.

As individuals, our privacy and financial security are at risk. Gatekeepers of our social and financial data from Facebook to Yahoo to Equifax have failed to guard the gates. Given the proliferation of genetic profiling, whether it is used to establish family histories or to pinpoint a susceptibility to inherited diseases, even our privacy at the level of our DNA may be subject to threat.

The risks are present not just at the scale of the individual, but at the systemic level as well. At our 212th Rensselaer Commencement this past Saturday, we presented an honorary degree to the Honorable Mary Jo White, the Chair of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission from 2013 to 2017. She believes that the single greatest threat to the global financial system is not a housing bubble or an expanding derivatives market or cryptocurrencies—but a failure of cybersecurity.

And of course, the rise of cyber-physical systems—particularly industrial control systems—means that infrastructure critical to our economy can be destroyed remotely. Hackers connected to the government of Russia are not only implicated in interference with the 2016 Presidential election, but also in cyber-intrusions into nuclear, water, and energy, aviation, and critical manufacturing facilities in the United States.

The danger is not merely that infrastructure crucial to our economy could be shut down—but that the infrastructure itself could be weaponized. In Saudi Arabia, a cyberattack last year on a petrochemical plant was designed not merely to erase data or to shut down the plant, but instead to trigger an explosion. Only a mistake in the hackers' computer code prevented this violence.

Clearly, our national security is at risk, including our ability to gather intelligence. Hacking tools have been stolen both from the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. The NSA breach meant that millions of people around the world were subject to ransomware and other forms of mayhem.  And should our financial system, or power infrastructure, or global supply chains be compromised by cyberattack, the very interconnectedness of humanity leaves us subject—when there is such a triggering event—to intersecting vulnerabilities with cascading consequences.

Even as our Rensselaer faculty use the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create powerful new tools of analysis, diagnosis, design, management, and creativity—they also are researching ways to shore up cybersecurity from many angles—whether in the control systems used by power plants, in the automated detection of terrorist networks, or in the development of an Intelligent Internet of Intelligent Things—where both the devices at the edge and the central network itself are smart and adaptive, so that we can design systems for end-to-end immune-like response to cyberattack. Such systems would be able to detect suspicious activity anywhere in the network, to shut down the compromised part—and then automatically to reconfigure themselves.

Finally, our guests will be pleased to know that the next generation of leaders is firmly focused on the problems of cybersecurity. One of the most popular student clubs on our Troy campus is our computer security club, RPI SEC—which took first place in the signature Capture the Flag event at the most recent New York University Cyber Security Awareness Week games, the world’s largest student cybersecurity competition. Clearly, our students and faculty are breaking new ground.

Speaking of breaking new ground, before I introduce our panelists, I would like to invite all of you to attend our Scholarship Gala to be held October 24th at the JW Marriot Essex House, in New York City, followed by a performance by the Rensselaer Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The evening celebrates the creation of our new Bachelor of Science degree program in Music, and supports our billion-dollar capital campaign. Titled Transformative: Campaign for Global Change, the campaign has three pillars intended to strengthen Rensselaer for continued global leadership in the 21st century:

The first is increasing student financial aid and enhancing the student experience. The cost of the education we offer at Rensselaer—world-class, immersive, and experiential—requires us to strengthen our ability to offer financial aid. We intend to increase our endowment to close the gap between need and aid, in order to attract and retain the most talented students, regardless of means.

Our second pillar focuses on our faculty. We will use the resources unleashed by the campaign to create endowed professorships that will allow us to attract and retain the very best academic talent from around the world. We also will expand our tenured and tenure-track faculty to 500, so that Rensselaer can achieve intellectual critical mass, and lead, in all crucial areas of research and education that comport with our founding mission, "the application of science to the common purposes of life."

Our third pillar focuses on our beautiful Troy campus, which we will expand, modernize, and equip for continued leadership in research, pedagogy, and the student experience.

We hope you will join us, in the campaign, and in New York City for our gala.

And now, I have the great pleasure of introducing our panelists:

Our first panelist is the Director of the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications and the Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web, and Cognitive Sciences at Rensselaer. He also heads the Rensselaer-IBM Center for Health Empowerment by Analytics, Learning, and Semantics, and serves as a Chair of the Board of the United Kingdom-based Web Science Trust.

An expert in the Semantic Web, artificial intelligence, and agent-based computing, Professor Hendler was appointed a member of the United States Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee in 2015.

His most recent book is Social Machines: The Coming Collision of Artificial Intelligence, Social Networks, and Humanity.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Yale University, a master's in Cognitive Psychology from Southern Methodist University, and both a master's and a doctorate in Computer Science from Brown University.

Please join me in welcoming Professor James Hendler.              

Our next panelist is president of RKM Consultants, which provides marketing, business development, financial, and operational consulting services to firms focused on enterprise and public sector markets. As an entrepreneur and executive, he has more than 36 years of experience in the telecommunications and information technology industries, with extensive management expertise in mergers and acquisitions, business development, finance, and operations.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an MBA in Finance from the University of Detroit, and a juris doctor from Wayne State Law School.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Rodney Martin of the Class of 1975.

Our next panelist is principal and founder of sFractal Consulting, a boutique cybersecurity consulting firm. He previously enjoyed a 35-year career with AT&T, where he was the AT&T Chief Security Architect. In 1995, he was awarded the Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, the highest award given by the United States Intelligence Community to a non-government employee.

He received both his Bachelor of Science and master's in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and holds six patents.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. Duncan Sparrell of the Classes of 1977 and 1978.

Our next panelist is a founding principal of Livingston PLLC, a Washington, D.C. law firm that focuses on legal and technology issues related to cybersecurity and global data privacy, health care, and compliance and risk management.

She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on a wide range of security and emergency management topics.

She received a BA in Political Science and Economics from Connecticut College, an MS in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and holds a J.D. degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.

Please join me in welcoming Lucy Thomson of the Class of 2001.

And now I will introduce our moderator, who is Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer at Rensselaer. He was instrumental in helping me to establish the Center for Computational Innovations, or CCI, at Rensselaer. The CCI houses AMOS, the Advanced Multiprocessing Optimized System, a petaflop supercomputer that is the most powerful at an American private university, and Watson, the remarkable IBM cognitive computing platform that Rensselaer alumni were instrumental in developing. He is the principal investigator for the New York State High Performance Computing Consortium, and currently is working with teams from Rensselaer and IBM on groundbreaking research projects in cognitive immersive systems and machine learning.

He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. John Kolb of the Classes of 1979 and 1983.