Northern Nevada leaders met Wednesday in downtown Reno to learn about the threat of cyber attacks and how to join together as a community should one hit the region, thanks to a federal grant snapped up by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Wednesday’s training couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Larry Thompson, associate director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS).
According to a video obtained by the FBI last year and released Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, al Qaeda may be turning its attention to cyber-warfare against the United States.
In the video, an al Qaeda operative calls for “electronic jihad” against the United States. The video compares vulnerabilities in vital American computer networks to the flaws in aviation security before the 9/11 attack, according to an ABC World News report released Wednesday.
The taping also calls on the “covert mujahadeen” to launch cyber attacks against the networks of government and critical infrastructure, including the electric grids.
“This is the clearest evidence we’ve seen that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want to attack the cyber systems of our critical infrastructure,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said in a statement.
“This video is troubling as it urges al Qaeda adherents to launch a cyber attack on America,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member on the committee. “It’s clear that al Qaeda is exploring all means to do us harm and this is evidence that our critical infrastructure is a target.”
The national security community says the threat of cyber attack is real, and the gap between terrorist aspirations and capability is closing. The senior intelligence official at Cyber Command, Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, has said al Qaeda operatives are seeking the capability to stage cyber attacks against U.S. networks and terrorists could purchase the capabilities to do so from expert criminal hackers.
At the training — held at Circus Circus in a conference room full of local government, business, health care professionals and service providers for electrical, gas and other mass-produced systems — Thompson said any cyber attack on U.S. grids could effectively wipe out communities.
The grant covered the cost for CIAS to train the leaders of the northern Nevada region by teaching the community cyber security.
“This brings them together to raise awareness of cyber security issues and threats to better defend the community, infrastructure and citizens,” Thompson said.
Sandoval kicked off the day’s seminar via video broadcast by welcoming the participants from federal, state and local governments, and from the private sector, by emphasizing his support for the cyber security program.
Participants began the process of working through 12 types of cyber security events that could happen at any given moment within a community, said Stephanie Eqing-Ottomey, exercise director.
The types of events practiced by attendees were common events, such as malware, employees who have gone missing and incidents when people go through the garbage.
“These are the kinds of things that can happen at any organization,” Ewing-Ottmey said.
Wednesday’s training focused on basic incidents to enable those sitting at the several round tables a chance to learn how to work together, sharing information and expertise. Each participant at the table was from a different sector of the community.
Cory Casazza, chief information management officer for Washoe County, attended the event and said he felt the program would positively affect the Truckee Meadows community.
“My big hope is working together and meeting people,” Casazza said. “The more we know, the more techniques we learn and the stronger it not only makes Washoe County but the whole community. It helps to interact with others in the community. We know how to react with other agencies.”
The program is an ongoing, 14-month program funded by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant provided to the CIAS for the purpose of delivering community cyber security exercises and training. Sandoval lobbied the federal government for Nevada’s participation in the program.
CIAS is a non-profit security center associated to the University of Texas at San Antonio. For the past 10 years, CIAS has conducted cyber security training and awareness exercises and events across the nation. CIAS offers a comprehensive training and education program to enhance a community’s awareness, understanding and ability to protects its critical infrastructures and services, according to its marketing material.