EDS CEO calls for high level of cybersecurity

During his keynote speech at Comdex in Las Vegas last week, EDS chairman and CEO Dick Brown said that the U.S. government has not placed enough emphasis on cybersecurity in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The majority of federal dollar response has been focused on guards, gates, bombs, and bullets – not protection of our information infrastructure,” Brown said.

Brown was even more direct when he said that we are just as vulnerable today to attacks on our information technology infrastructure as we were to physical attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Brown said that recovering from virus attacks is costing businesses upwards of US$20 billion a year. His point, which he emphasized throughout his hour-long address, was that security attacks on our business infrastructure will in the long run be more detrimental than physical attacks to the world economy.

“In the digital economy, does data have a nationality?” he said.

Brown used one its customers, American Express, as an example of the importance of digital assets over brick-and-mortar assets. American Express had its headquarters in the World Trade Center at the time of the disaster.

Despite its physical location, American Express, with the assistance of EDS, was able to maintain an almost continuous link with its customers and therefore keep the trust of its customers so that they could travel, make purchases, and continue doing business. Without that trust, Brown said, we would end up back in the dark ages.

“Without trust, commerce slows and investment stops,” Brown said.

The larger point Brown continued to make was that “technology does not provide solutions” and that technologists must become human-centric, rather than techno-centric.

Brown told the high-tech industry leaders that business continuity and disaster recovery plans must become the new urgency for every company. His comments resonated with the audience.

“A lot of people in technology out there have blinders on and don’t look far enough ahead,” said Scot Broughton, director of channel sales at Mangosoft, in Westborough, Mass.

At the show, Brown also displayed a bit of physical security as well, in the form of an immigration kiosk now used in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and designed by EDS. The kiosk is a biometric device used to identify unique identifiers in the spatial relationship of the bone structure of a person’s hand. Once registered, a passenger is issued a smart card with the biometric information encoded as well as personal information similar to the kinds of data collected when applying for a passport. Once registered, a traveler spends approximately 15 seconds before being issued a boarding pass. Prior to the kiosk, passengers at the airport often spent hours before boarding the plan during security checks.

The keynote address ended with a live interview with Sir Arthur C. Clarke who lives in Sri Lanka. Despite much talk about technology not being as important as people, the mere fact that the live link between Brown and Clark worked via inexpensive computer equipment, using satellite links was as impressive as the interview itself.

“The live connection with Arthur C. Clarke was pretty damn amazing and was the highlight of Comdex,” said Allan Simpson a developer with mortgage firms in Orange County, Calif.

Clark predicted that by the year 2020, the combination of voice and visual recognition and voice synthesis will make H.A.L. the intelligent computer from Clark’s movie 2001 a reality.

Brown ended his talk by telling the audience that only by asking the right questions can we as a society come up with the right answers.