|Jim Christy is the director of this year’s U.S. Cybercrime Conference in Lansdowne. -Times-Mirror/Ben Hancock|
After 42 years with the Department of Defense and other military agencies, Jim Christy is now working with large corporations to protect themselves from cyber threats.
Once a computer crime guru at the Pentagon, he now works privately on cybercrime initiatives.
This Sunday, he plans to bring financial institutions, drug stores, hospitals, "anybody that has to protect personal and financial information" to the recently-acquired National Conference Center for the 2014 U.S. Cybercrime Conference.
This newest iteration of the conference will be held by eventPower instead of the DOD. In past years the DOD lead the event.
"When I ran it for the DOD, it had a limited audience of just the DOD and DOD contractors," said Christy.
In 1986, Christy got the first major cybercrime conviction in the Pentagon's history.
The KGB were buying secrets about the United States from teen-to-twenty-something hackers located in Hanover, West Germany.
A systems administrator at a laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. named Cliff Stoll found out these hackers were accessing "unclassified military documents."
An alphabet soup of government agencies like the FBI and CIA initially didn't think the breaches were a big deal, some small-time organizational tinkering.
Stoll eventually found Christy, who at that time was an assistant chief of computer crime at the Pentagon.
Christy thought the hacking incidents were a big deal, maybe even international espionage.
"Ninety-nine percent of my career was fighting good guys trying to tell them they needed to pay attention to this," said Christy. "I couldn't convince anybody that these were spies."
After months of luring the members of the West German crew into a honeypot, Christy eventually located the group – which had hacked hundreds of military documents – and sent a local police force to lock them up.
The Hanover Hacker case, as it came to be known, was a seminal moment in cybercrime enforcement that brought more awareness to the scope of hacking.
"I had never thought about the vulnerability of hackers," said Christy. "That was the a-hah moment for me."
"Back in the 1980s cybersecurity threats were "kids seeing it as a challenge," explained Christy.
Then governments figured out how to use hacking as a tool to spy.
These days it's an all-out war for financial information.
With security breaches like the one that forced Target Chief Information Officer Beth Jacob to resign in March, large corporations are beginning to take notice as well.
"We are trying to produce a conference to help people protect themselves," said Christy.
The conference is meant to help people determine important distinctions like what's an insider threat, what's a glitch and who's an outsider.
Christy knows for sure that heads of banking institutions are starting to look for help with weaknesses in their system remarking, "We're going to have folks from multiple banks there."
The Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. area is the cybersecurity hub for the world, "not just the United States," Christy said.
For context he mentioned that in the infancy of the Internet, most of the original Internet service providers were in Virginia.
That fact paired with the might of the nearby national government grew a culture of cybersecurity professionals and awareness.
The government and even individuals are becoming more dependent on technology and the Internet, but as Christy says the Internet is a moving target.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, we're always creating new vulnerabilities for hackers.
The numbers of people to address the issue has been outgrown by the sophistication of the technology.
Like any virus the best treatment is prevention, which meant for years Christy tried to get hackers to come to his side.
An article in Wired magazine from 2007 explains in part this quest at a hacker conference in Las Vegas.
When the conference was run by the Department of Defense years ago it wasn't held in the Washington D.C. area, but because of sequestration cuts, the National Conference Center, a venue not too far from D.C., made sense.
Cybersecurity and cybercrime are expected to be big business for Northern Virginia going into the future.
Telos is in talks to expand and the governor is rolling out his own program to help educate retailers about potential threats and how to protect themselves.
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