Ford Policy Talk addresses cybersecurity threats, security in the digital age

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 - 8:06pm

Paul Abbate, associate deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and David Levy, vice president of Amazon Web Services, addresses challenges associated with cybersecurity during a virtual event Wednesday afternoon.

Paul Abbate, associate deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and David Levy, vice president of Amazon Web Services, addresses challenges associated with cybersecurity during a virtual event Wednesday afternoon. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Isabella Preissle

Paul Abbate, associate deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and David Levy, vice president of Amazon Web Services, addressed cybersecurity challenges at a virtual event hosted by the Ford School of Public Policy on Wednesday. 

Abbate and Levy mentioned the difficulties of keeping up with technological changes over the past 20 years.

“Whether it’s terrorism, many traditional forms of criminal activity or counterintelligence activity by foreign adversaries, all of those bad actors, criminals, terrorists, are coming at us through cyber means now,” Abbate said. “And I would say, technology and the tools that we all have now have really outpaced our understanding of the risk and that’s something that we’re battling minute to minute, day to day.”

While Abbate and Levy work in different fields, they both emphasized the importance of understanding the risks of putting information online. Abbate said one of the largest cyber threats that individuals face is criminals hacking into devices and locking them as a way to get ransom money.

“Traditional organized criminal groups and individual actors coming after people for profit and for financial gain, that’s what it’s all about,” Abbate said. “And when you break that all down further, within that, the predominant threat is ransomware.” 

As more people are working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Levy said there is a higher risk of people clicking questionable links or answering a suspicious email since people are more likely to let their guard down at home. Levy said while Amazon Web Services does its best to add layers of security, consumers must be aware of the risks. 

“We look first and foremost at the layers of security, such as networks, inscription, firewalls and infrastructure and with that thought in mind, we’re designing our cyber defenses in layers and not trying to over-rotate and focus too heavily on (the persona of the attacker),” Levy said.

Because cyberattacks are a threat to both personal and national security, private agencies will work with public agencies such as the FBI to better protect customers and individuals. Levy said creating faster, more efficient means of communication between private businesses and public law enforcement could help deter cyberattacks.

“There can be better faster mechanisms put in place at a policy level that allow for information sharing and trading,” Levy said. “Sometimes you can get into situations where organizations are reluctant for a number of reasons to share information, but to the extent that we can create policy that allows for that information sharing and allows that to happen as frictionlessly as possible, I think that there are going to be new threats and new attacks… The faster we can communicate with each other about this, the better.” 

During a question and answer session at the end of the event, multiple people asked about the gray area that comes with privacy and law enforcement in the cyber world. Rackham student Deepika Natarajan mentioned the FBI’s handling of privacy concerns.

“What are some specific ways in which the FBI balances personal privacy with national security?” Natarajan asked. 

Levy said his company takes personal security very seriously. 

He said Amazon doesn’t have direct access to personal data and has not had an issue with FBI warrants. 

“We don’t have access to customers’ data — that is the shared responsibility model,” Levy said. “I think we’ve got a great partnership with law enforcement when they’ve come to us for assistance. We’ve worked very hard to give them the kind of information that they need to help pursue what they’re pursuing.”

Daily Staff Reporter Isabella Preissle can be reached at ivp@umich.edu


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