Leadership Spotlight

Importance of Cybersecurity

A stock image of a cyber classroom with a female instructor.

We face a pivotal point in our history concerning the Internet connectivity of all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional. In this regard, law enforcement leaders have important considerations.

The number of Internet-connected devices already has outpaced the total of humans on earth, and this figure will more than double by 2020.1 Further, about 90 percent of the adult U.S. population (98 percent of 18 to 29 year olds) relies on the Web, and approximately 77 percent has the constant companionship of their smartphone.2 Beyond that, the Internet of things (IoT)—the rapidly growing mass of Web-connected devices (e.g., TVs, cars, refrigerators, cameras, sensors, data collectors)—will geometrically increase in the near future.3

But, this digital “utopia” of connectivity and access has its dangers. Many IoT devices do not offer the ability to incorporate common security features or future security updates. Not surprisingly, from 2016 to 2017 the number of cyberattacks against such mechanisms increased by 600 percent.4 The presence of a growing IoT drastically will increase our cyberthreat vulnerability in an already risky online environment.

As law enforcement leaders, we cannot afford to ignore this trend. From body and dash cameras; to smartphones and watches; to sensors, door locks, and card readers; to heating and air-conditioning systems; to the refrigerator and coffee pot in the breakroom, our agencies connect to the Internet in hundreds of ways, many of which we do not realize. The days when we could proceed in blissful ignorance about the cybersecurity threat have ended.

One former tech CEO said, “There are two types of companies [agencies]: those who have been hacked, and those who don’t yet know they have been hacked.”5 Other experts have made similar comments.6 Serving in law enforcement does not exempt us from risk; in fact, it may make us more vulnerable because of our increased visibility.

What do we need to do? Every level of law enforcement, especially the leadership, needs to have a basic understanding of cybersecurity concepts. Agencies need to create threat policies, response strategies, and event-recovery plans. They also must provide appropriate instruction and conduct training exercises, just as they would for SWAT operations or natural disaster exercises.

I know that this topic stirs fear, but as leaders we must start educating ourselves. We no longer can say that understanding cybersecurity applies only to the IT staff. If our agencies become hacked, we—not our IT manager—will stand in front of cameras to do the press release.

Supervisory Special Agent Nathaniel R. White, a cyberthreat instructor in the Executive Programs Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at nrwhite@fbi.gov.


1 Liam Tung, “IoT Devices Will Outnumber the World’s Population This Year for the First Time,” ZDNet, February 7, 2017, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.zdnet.com/article/iot-devices-will-outnumber-the-worlds-population-this-year-for-the-first-time/.
2 “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet,” Pew Research Center, February 5, 2018, accessed December 18, 2018, http://www.pewInternet.org/fact-sheet/Internet-broadband/; and “Mobile Fact Sheet,” Pew Research Center, February 5, 2018, accessed December 18, 2018, http://www.pewInternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/.
3 Tung.
4 Xu Zou, “IoT Devices Are Hard to Patch: Here’s Why—and How to Deal with Security,” TechBeacon, accessed December 18, 2018, https://techbeacon.com/iot-devices-are-hard-patch-heres-why-how-deal-security; Gary Eastwood, “5 of the Biggest Cybersecurity Risks Surrounding IoT Development,” NetworkWorld, June 27, 2017, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.networkworld.com/article/3204007/Internet-of-things/5-of-the-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-surrounding-iot-development.html; and “2018 Internet Security Threat Report,” Symantec, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.symantec.com/security-center/threat-report.
5 Zeus Kerravala, “John Chambers’ 10 Most Memorable Quotes as Cisco CEO,” NetworkWorld, July 24, 2015, accessed December 18, 2018, https://www.networkworld.com/article/2952184/cisco-subnet/john-chambers-10-most-memorable-quotes-as-cisco-ceo.html.
6 “Shareable Quotes from Experts on the Future of the Internet of Things Connectivity Binge,” Pew Research Center, June 6, 2017, accessed December 18, 2018, http://www.pewInternet.org/2017/06/06/shareable-quotes-from-experts-on-the-future-of-the-in.