Keeping Our Nation Safe

With the uptick in cyberattacks in the United States, many consumers are concerned about their identities being stolen. But John Felker ’78 is working hard to keep our nation safe from these types of attacks.

This past August, Felker assumed the day-to-day operation of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The center is the U.S. government’s 24-7 hub for cybersecurity information sharing, incident response, and coordination. Prior to joining DHS, Felker was the director of cyber and intelligence strategy for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services.

In his new role, Felker helps provide protection for federal government agencies in the dot-gov environment, state and local governments, private sector organizations, and international partners.

Cyberthreats to national security can come from a number of places, Felker said, including the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, ISIL, the Syrian Electronic Army, or from criminals who use cyberattacks as a way to make money. Threats may also come from “hack-tivists” who are seeking to achieve political exposure, or from run-of-the-mill basement hackers who are trying to prove their criminal worth.

Fortunately, the United States has several allies—including countries and corporations— working to prevent attacks before they even happen.

“Cybersecurity is a team sport,” Felker said. “There is not one entity, one organization, or one nation that is going to solve this on its own.”

According to Felker, there are three key things leaders need to do to prevent future attacks. First, be more proactive and less reactive. Second, improve information sharing. And third, own the problem.

“It’s not good enough anymore to say, ‘OK, all you techies go and solve the problem,’” he said. “Companies are being sued because they didn’t exercise their fiduciary responsibility of protecting people’s information.”

Leaders must shore up the proper resources, continually thinking about cyberdefense in broader terms than just firewalls and other tools. And they need to know how to continue to operate their organization, even after an intrusion has occurred.

Leadership is something Felker knows quite a bit about, having learned the basics of good leadership and organizational management at Ithaca College.

“The experiences I had at IC were instrumental in preparing me to do the job I have now—and all the jobs I had while on active duty and while at HP,” he said.

A physical education major at IC, Felker participated in gymnastics and football as a student–athlete. He said he had every intention of being a teacher or a coach. After graduating, he served as a graduate assistant, helping Jim Butterfield coach the Bomber football team. He then moved on to coach at the United States Coast Guard Academy before starting a 30-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Referring to his current role Felker said, “We want to try to get left of boom”—aware of potential cyberattacks before they happen. “We want to be more proactive with what we do in our cyberdefense efforts rather than being reactive and trying to pick up all the pieces after a cyberattack.”