If a Russian aircraft were to lock its targeting radar as it came up behind an American aircraft flying over Syria, the U.S. fighter would have a right to defend itself from a hostile act.
But there is no formal policy on how to personally respond to a cyberattack such as the expansive 2013 Target data breach or the recent Ransomware attack on the city of Atlanta.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency before embattled Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, spoke Tuesday at Nichols College about the roles of government, private and public companies and academia in combating cyberthreats to the United States.
Last June, the college began a leadership-focused Master of Science program in counterterrorism geared toward careers in intelligence, public policy and security. The program is headed by Prof. Allison McDowell-Smith, an internationally-recognized expert in counterterrorism and violent extremism, who has interviewed members of ISIS.
She said while other colleges have similar programs, this is the first graduate program in the county that exclusively focuses on violent extremism. The college said there was a need to create the program after the Department of Homeland Security said countering violent extremism is a top priority for the nation.
Mr. Burgess, 64, has been involved in the field for about four decades, including a 38-year career in the U.S. Army. He is now senior counsel for National Security Programs, Cyber Programs and Military Affairs at his alma mater, Auburn University in Alabama.
Mr. Burgess said the policy piece dealing with cyberterrorism is still evolving. In some cases, he said the industry doesn’t want to reveal its capabilities and what it has. A prime example is a 2016 case in which Apple refused the FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone used by the perpetrator of a terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
Mr. Burgess told people in the audience, particularly younger ones, that they can be involved in advancing counterterrorism.
“As I look at the backside of the room, this is one (thing) that you and your generation is increasingly going to have to address and see where it goes because we’re just getting started. The world is really opening up,” he said.
But 17-year-old Andrew McCoy, a senior at Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, came to hear the speaker because since he was about 14, he has been planning a career in counterterrorism and homeland security. His father, Brian McCoy, a psychology professor at Nichols, told him about Mr. Burgess’ special presentation.
The teen said his career plan began to take shape years ago when he watched the news on TV and saw victims of a terror attack. He said he chose not to pursue a business career or some job just to make a lot of money. Instead, he said he wants to help people.
“Once I saw that (on TV), I was changed. I really want to make a difference,” he said after the event. “Any way I can to help defend people from having to not go through that pain … ”
Mr. Burgess said the U.S. has had a technological advantage over most nations. The world’s largest unclassified super computer was at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. But in the last 10 years, the U.S. has become number two and then number three behind China, which built a bigger and faster computer.
When asked if he believes the U.S. is now behind the curve, Mr. Burgess said no. He also said he believes that Russia did try to influence the last presidential election. But there is also belief that the U.S. does the same with Russian elections.
Mr. Burgess was also asked what employers in the counterterrorism field are looking for in potential employees.
Being able to speak Spanish is not impressive, he said, but being fluent in other languages, such as Chinese, Arabic or Persian, is.
“As I tell students, if you’re looking toward the future, cybersecurity and intelligence are growth industries. Take a look at them.”