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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
5th National Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education

May 22, 2001

Good morning to you all. Thank you, Alan, the introduction. I want to acknowledge what a terrific job you've done here at George Mason, both in providing a vision for our entire region, and for hosting this Colloquium.

Let me also thank all of our hosts and organizers for bringing us together. And thank you all for inviting me to join you today. I'm delighted and honored to be here. I know this is very early in the day for a speech, so to steal a line from the author Herman Wouk, I promise to be sincere, be brief, and be seated.

Today, I have important news to share. I have the pleasure of announcing the first awards for the National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service program. When I last checked, most of the Principal and Co-Investigators were in the room with us today. And if our security holds, I'm sure they'll still be here when I finish!

I know that this Colloquium is the appropriate place to make this announcement. You've provided the leadership needed to elevate the issue of information security on the national agenda. You've jumpstarted our quest for cyber security, and put us on the right path to meeting the many challenges confronting us.

So let me begin by congratulating you for your valuable service. I know how difficult it is to get "off the bench" and "inside the beltway," to get away from our desks and from the hurly-burly of everyday business. But it's worth it. The partnership you've forged among academia, business, and government will have big payoffs for the nation for many years to come.

Before I announce the awards, I'd like to say a few words about the National Science Foundation. Then I'll put the awards in a larger context and talk about why they are so important to the future of the nation.

This year we have begun to implement a new NSF five-year strategic plan. It lays out an updated vision for NSF that is clear and simple: "Enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation."

Not long ago, you would likely not have seen the word innovation in a vision statement for NSF. Now it's there - side-by-side with learning and discovery.

To realize this vision, we've identified NSF's three strategic goals. They're summed up by three key words: People, Ideas and Tools. These strategies aim for nothing less than world-class leadership in science and technology.

You'll notice that People come first in our list. That's intentional. NSF is as much about building a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. Although we continually break new ground with the research we support, we need people to carry forward the continual process of discovery and innovation.

NSF programs involve nearly 200,000 scientists, engineers, teachers, and students each year. That includes more than 61,000 post doctorates, trainees, and graduate and undergraduate students. These are the young scientists and engineers who will provide the highly skilled workforce required in the new knowledge-based economy.

Now, let me put the work of NSF in a different context. NSF accounts for about three and a half percent of federal research and development spending. But that three and a half percent supports roughly 50 percent of the non-medical fundamental research at our colleges and universities.

Society invests in science and technology because it believes - appropriately - that new knowledge brings progress. Seventy-four percent of the respondents to the most recent NSF public attitudes survey agree that the benefits of scientific research outweigh any harmful results.

This is really why we are here today. It's our job to ensure that society continues to see science and technology as a source of positive progress.

In my own field of biology, I've heard the double helix compared to a double-edged sword. Like many, I've devoted much of my career to seeing that science and technology advance social progress. I'm also fully aware that a small subset of society can use the same knowledge to wreak havoc.

All of us who care about progress in science and technology generally must be good stewards of the power it brings. That means giving equal priority to promoting appropriate uses and identifying and addressing inappropriate uses whenever possible.

Society places a high level of trust in us, and it's up to all of us to provide the necessary leadership.

Sometimes it's a challenge to keep a positive perspective. As a microbiologist, I've worked with others to address the threats posed by biological warfare and terrorism. You'll understand when I say that there is nothing more sobering than a no-holds-barred briefing on security issues.

We've all had the chilling experience of awakening to a new perspective on the perils that confront us. The age of rapid technological change and global communications brings many possibilities, and many concerns. Whether its biospace or cyberspace, the dangers are real and growing.

So we are faced with a conundrum. But it's not a new one. Scientific progress and scientific misuse have always appeared as two sides of the same coin. What's different today, however, is that the stakes are higher. Let me elaborate on this dynamic.

In the last ten years, the winds of change have literally swept across our institutions. They have reshaped the once familiar landscape of the economy, clearing new paths in business, in research, in science and engineering, and in education.

Today, advances in science and engineering and technological change are the driving forces of our economy. We recognize that the capacity to create and use new knowledge is key to both economic prosperity and social well being. It's no surprise that nations all over the world are gearing up to compete in this knowledge-based economy.

At the same time, science and engineering research are increasingly international in scope. The number of scientific papers co-authored by investigators from different countries has skyrocketed in recent years. Scientists around the world now routinely share the use of large experimental facilities and instrumentation. Using distributed databases, researchers anywhere on the globe can contribute to research efforts. Virtual collaboratories allow us to bring the best minds to bear on problems, no matter where they reside.

The most talented and highly skilled workers in every country comprise the modern phenomenon of a global and mobile workforce. They can gravitate to where the best jobs are located. Information technologies have also made it possible for them to stay home and yet work abroad.

The new information and communication technologies have opened the gates for greater international cooperation. We can now envision a world in which the benefits of scientific progress and technological innovation are available to all.

It's no surprise that these powerful new technologies have also cast a shadow for the future. Worrisome signals are becoming all too familiar. We've all seen the reports - putting the "costs" of security breakdowns in the hundreds of millions, possibly the billions of dollars. Attacks on commercial and government Internet sites are increasing in frequency and sophistication.

Government information and communication systems have come under special scrutiny. Studies have raised questions about our ability to ensure the security of everything from IRS information and sensitive economic forecasts to critical infrastructure and military operations. These red flags have stimulated efforts to address the problem, with this Colloquium and NSF's Scholarship for Service program being two leading examples.

Questions about the adequacy of the U.S. science and engineering workforce are rising to a chorus. Reported shortages of skilled workers in the IT sector are only one example. The need we all recognize for a cadre of professionals in computer security and information assurance is another.

The advances in science and technology that supply us with powerful new tools to shape a better future have also created these new vulnerabilities.

Whether we welcome it or not, the pace of change is unlikely to lessen anytime soon. We haven't seen the end of the information revolution by a long shot, and we're only beginning to feel the impact of biotechnology in our everyday lives. Even newer technologies are visible on the horizon. Nanotechnology, for example, is likely to make the information revolution look like ripples in a pond.

I think all of us would agree that the solution to the current conundrum lies in moving forward, not in reversing course. More science, more innovation, and more education are the answer, not the problem.

Satchel Paige, the famous baseball pitcher and part-time sage, recognized the dangers in the second approach, and he coined one of my favorite lines: "Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you."

In the context of information security, moving forward means strengthening our capacity to advance science and innovation in all fields and across all sectors. But it also means engaging the people, ideas, and tools necessary to make us as smart about cyber security as we have always been about cyberspace.

We can do that if we bring the same level of innovation to bear on information security that has served us so well in information technology itself.

That brings me to my final point. I've saved it for last because it's pertinent to today's events. It's what underpins every other effort we might make to address information security challenges.

Let me read a quote from a report released in January by the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, Co-chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudmann:

"...the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine."

Those are strong words. After 50 years of U.S. global leadership in science and technology, what is the core of this concern?

At the root of it all are very real concerns about how our children will be able to thrive in this increasingly complex and technical world.

In this context, the word "thrive" has a number of meanings. It means enjoying continued economic and social prosperity. But it also means living as responsible and responsive citizens. Sustaining our security - as individuals and as a nation - now requires a scientifically literate public, alert to the possibilities and the challenges of a complex world. That means starting with today's children.

Science and mathematics education is no longer a luxury. It's imperative that all children be well-versed in science and mathematics to be successful in today's technology-based society.

I hope my comments will encourage you to go to local secondary schools and encourage students. Tell them to take more science and math courses that will interest them in careers in science and engineering - and, of course, in information security! Tell them some of the exciting things that scientists are discovering. Convey to them the passion you have for your own work. And tell them, by all means, how important developing their own talent is to the future of our nation.

That leads me to my most important comments. The NSF Scholarship for Service Program is designed to encourage undergraduates and Master's degree candidates to choose careers in the field of information security.

We need more of our nation's most promising minds focused on the growing cyberthreat to national security. These scholarships will encourage young people to enter the field and give them the opportunity to put their talents to work at the frontlines of government cyber security efforts.

Today, I have the honor of announcing the first awards in this program. This is where talk becomes action and we do something to address the challenges we face as a nation.

These awards provide 2-year scholarships for talented students to complete undergraduate and master's degrees in information assurance and security. As part of their education, students will serve in internship positions with the federal government. After receiving their degrees, they will work for two years in key positions in the federal government. They will be in the forefront of a new cadre of computer security and information assurance professionals.

The Office of Personnel Management, NSF's partner in this endeavor, will manage the placement of interns and graduates.

The National Security Agency has designated 23 institutions across the U.S. as Centers of Excellence in Information Assurance and Security Education. I'm pleased to tell you that the first Scholarship for Service will be awarded through six of these institutions.

Let me emphasize that this has truly been a team effort. The Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Scholarship for Service program has been a helpful guiding light throughout the planning.

I want to pay particular tribute to Dr. Richard Clark of the National Security Council for his leadership in making today's event a reality. Dick, please join me at the podium so we can both congratulate the recipients of these awards.

With all the fanfare I can muster from this podium, I will make the announcements, and would like each of you to come forward to receive an award letter.

In alphabetical order, then:

Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Donald McGillen, Department of Mathematics.

University of Idaho, Dr. John Dickinson, Department of Computer Science; Co-PI, Dr. Deborah Frincke will accept the award.

Iowa State University, Dr. James Davis, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Naval Postgraduate School, Dr. Cynthia Irvine, Department of Computer Science. Co-PI Paul Clark will accept the award.

Purdue University, Dr. Eugene Spafford, Director, Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. I understand that Dr. Spafford cannot be here to accept the award.

University of Tulsa, Dr. Sujeet Shenoi, Department of Computer Sciences. Co-PI John Hale will accept the award.

On behalf of the National Science Foundation, I congratulate you all. You are pioneers and the new territory you explore will help us all learn how to meet information security challenges.

Let me conclude with a few words about the work we're accomplishing together.

More than ever before in history, advances in science, in engineering, in education, and in technological innovation are the key to our future. New knowledge and ideas are the best hope we have for raising people's prospects, for combating poverty, hunger, and disease, and for sustaining a secure and healthy environment.

Our work on cyber security education is vital to this agenda. We need people with the skills and training to ensure that advances in science and technology are used in the public interest.

We can't advance that agenda, however, without strong public support. Translating the technical into the accessible, and promoting a deeper understanding of the importance of our work is central to our task.

The students who will serve in the federal government as part of the Scholarship for Service program will have the opportunity to contribute to this larger vision. They will be following in your footsteps. I thank all of you for your leadership on this vital issue. Mr. Clarke will now add his words of wisdom and, of course, congratulations.



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