Pittsburgh initiative wants city to own role as cybersecurity birthplace

| Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, 5:15 p.m.

There could not be a cyber 9/11 because no one possibly could claim to be surprised by an attack on the nation's critical infrastructure, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Monday at Carnegie Mellon University.

“It should be no surprise to anybody that there's a digital war going on right now,” Ridge said. “It involves multiple actors: sovereign states, organized crime, hacktivists, etc. Under the worst of circumstances, I can't believe any company, organization or any level of government could plead surprise if it got hit.”

Ridge, who also was elected to two terms as Pennsylvania governor, appeared in Pittsburgh to speak at the Cyburgh, PA 2016 Initiative, a joint effort by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and CMU's Software Engineering Institute to promote the city as a cybersecurity leader. Ridge cited Pittsburgh's unique role in protecting against online attacks.

“This is a city and a region that has gone from analog to digital, from the 20th Century to the 21st Century, just in terms of its economic development, its priorities and the businesses it has developed,” Ridge said. “Because the city itself has undergone such a remarkable transformation ... you build on that foundation because it's pretty strong and it's pretty wide.”

While the region has developed unique cybersecurity resources, it still needs to gain national recognition as the nation's industry leader, organizers said. They capped paid registrations for the event at 240 people and had a wait list.

“Cybersecurity was born here,” Summer Fowler, an event organizer and technical director at the Software Engineering Institute's CERT, or computer emergency response team, said in an opening session. “So let's own that. This is our birthright.”

Local assets include CERT, CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris University and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, a nonprofit information-sharing group that recently announced plans to expand in New York and Los Angeles, said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

“There is no better place in the country than Pittsburgh for this,” said U.S. Attorney David Hickton, who advises the U.S. Attorney General on cyber issues. “Not only do we have the talent. Not only do we have the record. Not only do we have the tools. We have that secret je ne sais quoi about Pittsburgh that we're just a group of people that likes to work together.”

Even when he has access to the smartest people around the world, Alan Levine, Alcoa's chief information security officer, said he often finds the best ones in Pittsburgh. He appeared on a panel with computer security experts from UPMC, Duquesne Light and Giant Eagle.

“Before we look outward for all of the answers, even for a global company, we look inward,” Levine said. He later added that Pittsburgh has become a “hub for smart, new technology.”

Andrew Conte is a member of the Tribune-Review investigations team. Reach him at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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