In the News: Boe Forum Speaker Talks Data Security

Former Microsoft executive Robbie Bach had a lot of advice for technology users in the Elmen Center Tuesday night at the 2014 Boe Forum on Public Affairs, presented by the Center for Western Studies.

His topic, "Privacy at Risk: Challenges to Protecting Personal Identity and Data" dealt with the current issue of privacy online and as Bach said, "it is not black and white." He explained that there are criminals online who will steal your information if you aren't careful and cases where the government does not use it properly, but data can also help solve real-world problems.

Unfortunately, for those who want all of their online data to be private, Bach has some news: "Digital information flows like water, and it's very difficult to control."

But he does encourage everyone to think about policy changes that should be made in this country. Bach encouraged Augustana students who were interested in this subject to form a group on campus for privacy rights and charged educational institutions to come up with real solutions to these problems.

 

Read the reaction to his address from the Argus Leader:

Boe Forum speaker: Protection from hackers a top priority

By Steve Young, Argus Leader

A former top executive with Microsoft briefed a crowd at Augustana College's Elmen Center Tuesday evening on computer security and told them that protecting themselves has to be a priority.

Speaking at the Boe Forum on Public Affairs, Robbie Bach said consumer education needs to be a top priority as America moves forward on cyber security. For anyone using the technology, that means:

  • Installing the 18 application updates waiting on your cellphone or iPads, "understanding that most of those 18 things are not new features, they're security fixes," he said.
  • Paying for the firewalls and antivirus protection on computers, and making sure they're current.
  • Avoiding what he calls "link stupidity," or clicking on links sent in suspicious emails.
  • Thinking about and changing passwords often. "If your password is your dog's name or your mom's maiden name, you have a problem," Bach said.

He spent the early part of his 40-minute speech discussing the areas of privacy and crime, government and big business.

Around the world, $67 billion is spent each year to provide information security, and yet, about $450 billion is lost through cybercrime and IT theft, Bach said. And much of the damage isn't even done by hackers, he said, but by disgruntled employees who have administrative passwords that allow them to steal or delete information.

One of the top examples of that was the document release by Edward Snowden that revealed the secret information gathering being done by the U.S. government.

Bach said he viewed what Snowden did as both villainous and patriotic.

"Whether you like him or not, he did act as an agent of change where maybe agents of change in the normal avenues were not working," Bach said. "But he also exposed our tools and techniques for surveillance, particularly outside of the United States. And that made the country less secure."

The whole area of information security and data collection swung dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bach said, "and now we have to figure out how to drive that pendulum back to the center."

He suggested a number of ways to do that. One way is to revise privacy laws and procedures so that, for example, the government doesn't have the leeway it does now under such things as the Patriot Act.

He said cases on information technology need to get in front of the Supreme Court to modernize and provide updated guidance in that area. And companies need to come up with a uniform opt-in system that is simple and allows consumers to choose how much or how little of their information companies can use.

As it is, there is so much information going out today that "if you tell me your gender, your birth date and your Zip code, I can identify 87 percent of Americans individually by name using no private information, using all public information," he said.

Having said that, he also noted that it would be wrong to limit the collection and use of data too greatly.

"Data solves real-world problems," he said. You want to talk about creating efficient transportation systems? Guess what? If you track the GPS data of all phones across the city, you'll know where people want to go, and you would be able to design a transportation system that takes them there uniquely and efficiently at the right time."

Bach might have seemed an unusual choice for the Boe Forum, since many of its speakers have been drawn from among the world's most influential leaders — people such as Gen. Colin Powell, President George H.W. Bush, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, among others.

But Harry Thompson with the Center for Western Studies, which hosts the event, said the goal always has been to bring in people to address public affairs that have contemporary interest.

"The whole world is becoming more technical and more technological," Thompson said. "In that vein, we have to look for people who have those kinds of credentials, and sometimes they are not political people."

Attorney General Marty Jackley said Bach's appearance was especially appropriate at a time when attacks on personal identity and data are huge in this state. His consumer division takes 35,000 calls a year, he said, "and often times, it's on data breach and privacy issues."

Jackley's staff is working now on cases involving a major South Dakota newspaper and a law enforcement agency in the state whose computer systems were hacked into, hijacked and held for ransom.

"We tell them we'll try to hunt this down, but pay the ransom right now," Jackley said. "That's where we're at. If the perpetrators are in another country and outside our jurisdiction, it's a huge challenge. There are so few prosecutions that we've simply reached the position where our focus is on awareness and preventative measures."

That was a message Bach delivered as well Tuesday night. And at least one member of the audience, Augustana College President Rob Oliver, took the talk to heart, saying he was going to follow through on all the updates waiting on his cellphone.

"And then tonight," he told the crowd, "I'm going to sleep like a baby."