Robert Mayer

Historic National Cybersecurity Summit

USTelecom is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in what the agency is describing as an “historic” meeting on cybersecurity risk management planned for July 31, 2018 in New York City. This all-day event will begin with a closed-door, CEO-level roundtable with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, other senior cabinet-level officials, and CEOs from the communications, finance, electricity and information technology sectors.

Four USTelecom members have been invited to participate in this Cabinet-level meeting including Anand Vadapalli, our Chairman of the Board and CEO of Alaska Communications Systems; Bob Udell, Vice-Chair of the Board and CEO of Consolidated Communications; Rusty Moore, the head of our Leadership Committee and General Manager of Big Bend Telephone; and John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications.

Secretary Nielsen and DHS Under Secretary Chris Krebs also have invited USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter to participate on an “Industry Perspectives” panel discussing critical cybersecurity challenges and opportunities for cross-sector engagement among Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) companies. This invitation stems in large part from the leadership role that USTelecom took in forming the Council to Secure the Digital Economy (CSDE) along with the Information Technologies Industry Council (ITI) in February.  The CSDE’s founding partners include seven global IT companies and USTelecom members AT&T, CenturyLink, NTT, Oracle, Telefonica and Verizon.

Setting the Stage for the Cybersecurity Summit

DHS began building this summit falling the May release of its Cybersecurity Strategy document, which identified key goals to address the diverse and growing threats posed by “sophisticated malicious actors who seek to exploit cyberspace.”  DHS noted that its goal is to “…ensure the availability of critical national functions and to foster efficiency, innovation, trustworthy communications, and economic prosperity in ways consistent with our national values and that protect privacy and civil liberties,” reinforcing the need for heightened engagement across the federal government landscape and industry. This engagement includes the need to prioritize risk management in the context of the rapidly evolving national cybersecurity risk posture. And, setting the stage for one of the key themes of the summit, was the assertion that the “…foremost responsibility of DHS is to safeguard the American people and we must prioritize our efforts to focus on systemic risks and the greatest cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities…”

Summit Messaging

USTelecom, and the entire communications sector, can reinforce several key principles likely to emerge from the event.  Much has been said in recent months about the need for “collective defense.” In a June address before an industry audience, DHS Under Secretary Chris Krebs described cybersecurity as “a cross cutting, cross-sector problem, so we have got to tackle it together.”  He noted that the Department is “pushing into this concept of collective security, collective defense” and that “alone, we’re not going to be able to address this problem, together we can.”  The communications sector has always recognized the need for broad engagement within our diverse sector, across sectors, with government partners, and across international jurisdictions, especially with like-minded nations. Clearly, the summit is designed to make clear the need for such collaboration.

Another industry pillar, and one where our industry is leading by example, involves efficient and productive sharing of threat information. We have a long-standing information sharing partnership with the DHS National Coordinating Center (NCC) which operates as our sector’s Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC). Through that venue, Network Service Providers across all major industry segments (e.g., wireline, wireless, cable) meet regularly to share events and observations in the cyber realm.

A new initiative that is certain to receive attention during the summit involves the implementation of a series of highly coordinated work streams among the communications, electricity and financial sectors. This work is critical given the growing risk of systemic failures across sectors and geographies.

The fact that a meeting is being convened between senior Cabinet and other top government officials and industry CEOs speaks to the growing understanding that resources will not be efficiently deployed without top management engagement. The potentially existential threat to our national and economic security requires us to bring technical, policy, industry and organizational leaders to the table to build a shared vision for anticipating, combating, and ultimately eliminating cyber threats. DHS is to be applauded for what is sure to be an historic event.