By Brittany Manning, SHARE'd Intelligence Editor
SHARE in Orlando, held earlier this month at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, brought together hundreds of enterprise IT professionals for networking, education and voracious discussion of the hottest topics in information technology. One particular focus of the week was security. With the changing technological landscape and the ever-increasing usage of cloud technology, security for the mainframe has been on everyone’s mind. Tuesday’s keynote speaker Joseph Lambert, director of Information Management Services at the Central Intelligence Agency, weighed in on the topic of information security and provided a federal government perspective on the concerns and challenges involved in securing highly confidential information that can have a global impact via his keynote presentation “National Security: Looking Back to Look Forward.”
Lambert arrived to loud applause, which is certainly to be expected when your title precedes you, the way Lambert’s does. He took the stage and warmed up the audience by sharing a few anecdotes about his life, how he got into the CIA and a particularly amusing snafu on a plane where a colleague of his, because he was accompanied by two large security personnel, was mistaken for a prisoner. Lambert then began to talk about the recent declassification of several cases by the CIA. He discussed one case regarding the Berlin Tunnel, a Cold War operation performed in conjunction with MI6 in which American soldiers dug an underground tunnel hundreds of yards into enemy territory in Berlin to tap wires for information. He also discussed a case called, “CIA Secrets from the Deep,” a mission to recover a satellite bucket, which was filled with images of enemy camps, from the bottom of the ocean.
After mystifying the audience with such interesting and previously unknown facts, Lambert got down to the importance of intelligence and security. He stressed that so many missions, like the ones he detailed, were successful because the information was kept secret. Should an enemy, a hacker or any other unauthorized individual have had access to that information, the United States would not have been able to get the information necessary to make significant strides towards resolving the conflict of the Cold War and would not have beaten the Soviet Union to the location of the sunken satellite bucket in time. Information security was, inarguably, one of the most important factors in these and many other cases.
In his talk, Lambert identified the three biggest challenges in modern information security. First, large amounts of data are hard to store, access and display to users rapidly over a network while continuously ensuring data integrity. The amount of data that the government collects about events around the world is astonishing, Lambert explained to the audience. While technology has allowed things to be stored digitally, that information still takes up an incredible amount of physical space. Second, it is challenging, if not impossible, to search mountains of data to find single instances of relevant information. At the risk of missing important information, data collected usually contains much more information than is directly relevant. The challenge, even for advance computers and powerful mainframes, is searching through that deep catalog of information to find those few things that may be relevant to a case or mission. Third, it takes humans to read and understand the meaning of information, but the amount of data that can provide important information is too great for a human to comprehend. Assuming the first two challenges are answered, namely that information is both storable and searchable, computers and mainframes, as powerful and capable as they are, are not able to comprehend the relevance or importance of the information that they store and retrieve. These abilities are innately and uniquely human. However, there is so much information and so much data that there simply aren’t enough humans available to comprehend everything. Lambert stunned audiences when he reported that he and his team did the math, out of curiosity, to figure out how many staffers his office—just his office—would need to read through and comprehend all the information that is processed through his department. The astonishing number? 2 million.
These three challenges of information security — storing, searching and comprehending — are at the crux of what information technology is working to deal with today. And the importance of not only accessible but securable data was the inspiration for Lambert’s talk. While Lambert did not specifically detail the ways in which the CIA encrypts and protects its information—for obvious reasons, of course—he did talk about how his department is constantly looking towards technological developments, like advancements in mainframe and enterprise IT systems, for continued information management support. He spoke to how the increasingly connected world is not only presenting opportunities for people to share information, but also poses a challenge toward protecting confidential information. Lambert told the audience that secrets only have to be slightly better than an adversary’s ability to uncover them, but the bar is rapidly increasing due to an ever-increasingly connected world. He stressed the importance of understanding technological advances, not only for the purpose of bettering your own system, but also to understand all the ways in which hackers can exploit a system’s weaknesses and gain access to private information.
Overall, Lambert’s general session keynote presentation was extremely engaging. The audience was riveted, following his anecdotes and stories and gasping at all the right moments — like when he said that because of the sheer amount of information processed by the U.S. government, if the security measures were only 99 percent accurate, there would still be more than 10,000 secrets leaked. Lambert’s session was absolutely one of attendees’ favorites, judging by the ongoing conversations and references to his presentation throughout the remainder of the week.
If you’d like to watch Lambert’s presentation for yourself, head over to SHARE.org and purchase your all-access pass to SHARE Live!, where you can watch Lambert’s keynote and other sessions from SHARE in Orlando.
Brittany Manning is the editor of SHARE'd Intelligence. She works in conjunction with the SHARE team and supervising editor Dennis Coyle to compile the monthly SHARE enewsletter. If you are interested in contributing to SHARE'd Intelligence, please contact the SHARE editorial team at editor@SHARE.org.