Are you safe?

Broadband roundtable addresses access, security

By Mike Lewis

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — These days, the words “online access” are often followed by the words “online security.”

That was the case recently in Hagerstown, during a roundtable discussion about extending high-speed broadband access to rural areas.

“We know what happened in Baltimore City with ransomware,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in opening remarks.

What happened was a May ransomware attack on city computer servers. The attack cost Baltimore an estimated $18.2 million in restoration expenses and delayed or lost revenue, according to an Associated Press account. 

In August, city officials decided to dip into $6 million of park and public facility funds to help pay recovery costs.

Baltimore is not alone.

By Colleen McGrath
From left, U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, U.S. Rep. David Trone and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks listen as Washington County Administrator Robert Slocum talks about the availability of broadband in the county during a roundtable discussion Thursday at the Burobox Entrepreneur Resource Center in Hagerstown.

‘Rip and replace’

An estimated two million cyber attacks in 2018 resulted in more than $45 billion in losses worldwide, according to the Internet Society’s 2018 Cyber Incident & Breach Trends Report, which was released in July.

“Looking at some of the statistics, it might seem that 2018 finally brought some cyber incident relief — the number of data breaches and exposed records were down, and both ransomware and DDoS attacks were down overall,” the report stated. “Yet the financial impact of ransomware rose by 60%, losses from business email compromise doubled, cryptojacking incidents (the unauthorized use of others’ computing resources to conduct cryptomining) more than tripled, and there continued to be a steady stream of high-profile data breaches.”

To fight back, various organizations join each October for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, the month “is a collaborative effort between government and industry to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and to ensure that all Americans have the resources they need to be safer and more secure online.”

Online security was on the minds of many people at the rural broadband roundtable in Hagerstown.

“Access has to be our No. 1 priority,” Geoffrey Starks, one of five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission.

At the same time, he stressed security. In part, that’s because people will begin to rely on the internet for everything from entertainment to e-commerce, and from telework to telemedicine, he said.

On another front, he said, “I really see the lack of broadband access impacting our democracy.”

Areas that do not have broadband access risk being left behind in a state of “internet inequality,” Starks said.

From his seat on the FCC, Starks said, the issue goes even further.

“Network security is national security,” Starks said. He said the nation needs to “rip and replace where we know that we have unsecure equipment.”

‘We’ve got to do a better job’

The roundtable included state and federal officials as well as local business, civic and governmental leaders from Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

As the group discussed rural broadband service, some people drew parallels with rural electric service.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. In order to bring businesses and jobs to Western Maryland, we must have broadband access in every community,” U.S. Rep. David Trone, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said in a prepared statement after the event. “Just like our country invested in electricity and roads across America, access to broadband should be mandatory in every home to close the homework gaps, health care gaps and economic development gaps.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, called broadband “a critical public utility and a mandatory resource for the success of any community.”

Other members of the group said the success of the internet contributes to some of the challenges in remote areas.

Companies have created expectations that people will have fairly unlimited and continuous access to high-speed internet, said Theresa Bethune, president of Freedom Broadband in Westminster, Md.

Those same people, however, don’t leave all their lights on all the time, or leave water running continuously in a sink.

Content providers could help by compressing the data they send over the internet, she said. But that might require more FCC regulations. She compared that approach to the way utilities offer LED lights and water-conserving fixtures.

“There’s got to be a balance” between the customer’s demands and the ability to provide the service, she said.

“We’ve got to do a better job of turning the lights out,” Trone said.