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Ridge: Partner with Cyber Security for Economic Growth

Paul Morse

Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania Governor and the first secretary of Homeland Security, was the keynote speaker at the Haas Center’s inaugural Fall Forum. Ridge sat down with WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody.

Looking back at Sept. 11, 2001 — when hijackers slammed four jetliners into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Ridge — then the homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush — said the idea of a cabinet-level agency for such was not initially discussed by the administration.

“As the months rolled by, and as the enormity of the task to put this country in a position to with which we concluded would become a permanent and global scourge, then the decision was made to create the department,” said Ridge.

Despite the beliefs of many, the Department of Homeland Security, says Ridge, was not cut from whole cloth.

“Frankly, about 179,000 of the 180,000 employees were existing men and women who had great experience; but not in the area of homeland security,” Ridge said. “But it was a well-designed, well-conceived approach toward creating a department whose primary mission was defense.”

Part of Ridge’s visit to Pensacola included a tour of the Cyber Security Center at the University of West Florida.

“And as I was walking through the lab, it occurred to me that back in 2002 and 2003,” said Ridge, “we were not as sensitive to the notion that in the digital world, a cyberattack consistent with the physical attack would complicate the mission of response and recovery.”

Since then, interest in cyber security — in government, in the private sector and among individuals — is something that has matured in the years since the attacks. 

Credit Tina Hager / georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov
Director of the Office of Homeland Security Tom Ridge holds a press conference in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Office Building Oct. 18, 2001.

“And again, just walking through the lab — they’ve got the capability up there to train individuals to deal with potential penetration of industrial control systems or scanning systems,” Ridge said. “So, much more aware of our digital vulnerabilities today than we were on 9/11.”

After serving as Homeland Security Sec. from 2003 to 2005, Ridge founded the cybersecurity firm Ridge Global. The challenge, he says, is that technology moves faster than government.

“And so, when you think about securing your industrial control system and securing any digital assets you have in the private sector, best not wait for the government to do it,” said Ridge. “Government might be able to attribute the attacks, but by and large companies are going to have to rely on their own capabilities to defend themselves.”

Part of Ridge’s keynote speech at the Haas Center dealt with “Organizational Resiliency” — the ability of a business, regardless of size, to take a digital hit and see the destructive impact.

“Whether it’s exfiltration of information, whether they shut the organization down or actually destroy some of the infrastructure, to be able to respond and recover,” said Ridge. “Part [of] resiliency is doing everything you can to prepare that it doesn’t happen. Part of resiliency means that you view security not as an expense, but as an investment.”

Ridge is calling on area businesses and corporations to collaborate with UWF’s Cyber Center in areas such as workforce development, to better protect themselves.

“Let their analytics help you determine the future of your individual enterprise,” Ridge said. “If you work with them on industrial innovation, to help diversify this regional economy; it will certainly benefit the university, and yet it will certainly benefit the company. But by and large, that benefit ultimately is realized within the region itself.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.