Our nation's growing cyber crisis

While much of the nation focused on the technical glitches that rendered the healthcare.gov website incapable of handling the predicted volume of transactions, you may have also noticed various headlines about the same systems’ cyber security flaws. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling warning to our national leaders that cyber security must be considered in everything we do – from health care and business to education and workforce development.

The Internet age has opened up a new world of digital possibilities for all generations – our concept of the Internet as a destination is rapidly transforming into an “Internet of things,” where each person, place, organization and thing is interconnected and therefore inseparable in terms of opportunity and collective security – for better or worse.  We have become familiar with a new crop of unwelcomed terms and phrases: social engineering, phishing attacks, online identity theft and credit card fraud, Trojans, zero-day attacks, worms, viruses, malware, and an assortment of other online threats. Such a growing list of unseen dangers cries out for an educational curriculum that includes cyber safety.

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We need to do a better job of ensuring the technology we entrust to our younger generations is not jeopardizing their security. As a technology dependent  generation  emerges around us, we must at the very least equip our youth with a strong set of skills and habits to reduce risks in the cyber domain. A recent study of young adults conducted by Zogby Analytics reveals some risky cyber behaviors among our Facebook generation. Two-thirds of respondents said they have connected to public wireless networks and nearly half have used a USB device given to them by someone else. This apparent lack of awareness – or perhaps resignation – creates an unnecessary degree of vulnerability for a generation that finds itself connected and at risk from the moment they power up their smart devices each morning.

The same survey uncovered yet another cyber challenge to ponder – an alarming lack of cyber career guidance. For example, 82 percent of those surveyed indicated no one in their high school ever mentioned the idea of a career in cyber security. Consider this in light of the assessment of General Michael Flynn, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who told the third annual Cybersecurity Symposium at the University of Rhode Island that for every person working in military cybersecurity today, “we need 28 more.” While this is surely an alarming statistic that demonstrates a great need, it represents an amazing opportunity for the millennial generation. In fact, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that network systems and information security professionals can expect job opportunities to grow by 53 percent through 2018.

While heated debates and lively discussions among leaders, educators, students and parents within our communities are inevitable in solving the growing cyber crisis before us, we must not let that stop us from moving forward expeditiously with the development of strong educational programs that will maintain and extend our nation’s leadership in global cyberspace. We must empower young Americans to safely take advantage of the opportunities our highly connected digital world affords us. A strong cybercitizenry begins with cyber education and workforce development, and cooperation from community, educational, business and congressional leaders on that front is critical to our collective success both today and tomorrow.

Jacoby is the program engineering director of Cybersecurity and Special Missions at Raytheon Company.