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EDITORIAL: We all must be aware of, responsive to cyber threats

Cyber threats pose a new danger that we all must continue learning about so as to protect ourselves

Cyber threats must be addressed by governments, institutions and individuals. – Photo by FLY:D / Unsplash

Last week, the New Jersey Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee held a hearing about cybersecurity and cyber threats. Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14), who chairs the committee, said that the “testimony provided … critical background knowledge” on cybercrime and how the state can best prepare for and respond to a cyberattack.

The hearing comes at a crucial national moment, as well. Cyber experts in President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s administration are increasingly warning about a looming risk of Russian cyberattacks against critical sectors of the American economy.

The threat posed by Russia and the committee hearing both underscore that our sense of law and public safety is evolving in the 21st century. No longer are threats purely physical, and no longer can law be purely reactionary. Law and safety are both entering a multidimensional space that takes into account the unique threats posed in the digital age.

Cyber threats are not as easy to understand as physical threats: Defining what cybercrime looks like is harder to articulate than a personal assault. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans cannot fully explain the dangers of the digital sphere. This lack of understanding goes back to the critical need for increased background knowledge on cybercrime and understanding the digital atmosphere.

In addition to hearing such critical testimony, the Law and Public Safety Committee also discussed several key bills addressing cybersecurity. In particular, S 297 outlines what the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness must do to better protect New Jersey from cybercrimes, and it passed the committee unanimously. 

While the State is advancing these actions from a legislative standpoint, Rutgers is also taking actions to make sure the University and its students are protected. In fact, in Fall 2021, Rutgers hired its first chief information security officer, Guy J. Albertini

Albertini leads the University on matters relating to protecting personal data and intellectual property as well as leading efforts to ensure the University's infrastructure can withstand cyberattacks.

The appointment of Albertini comes after the University’s full year of virtual learning, which required students to use technology in new ways that presented unique challenges. The year on Zoom for students usually brings back difficult memories of the social distance and inability to participate in regular college activities. But perhaps more importantly, the year on Zoom revealed some of the main cyber flaws the University faces.

In February of last year, racist and bigoted Zoom-bombings disrupted events for Black History Month. Rutgers responded by distributing resources for students, professors and organizations to protect their Zoom meetings. This example highlights the fragility of our experience on Zoom last year and how easily events or even classes could have been derailed and pointed to the need to have a more wide-reaching program of cybersafety.

Although these challenges can sometimes feel disconnected from individual experiences, it is important for us to remind ourselves that we need to be vigilant and safe when we use the internet. To do so, we should continuously update our passwords and be cautious about the links we click on and what we do online.

While we as individuals should do as much as possible to protect ourselves, the more pressing concerns must be remediated by the government and by institutions. Both New Jersey and Rutgers are taking these threats seriously and addressing them with an urgency that is comforting. Despite that, though, more must still be done.

The state needs to continue moving forward on cyber legislation. Whether protecting critical infrastructure, implementing increased trainings for state workers or creating a task force, New Jersey is leading the way in responding to cyber threats.

New Jersey is also paving the way in cyberliteracy. The state should eventually pass AB 1892, which requires students in grades nine through 12 to receive cybersecurity education. Students must be made aware of the dangers and threats computers pose.

That focus on education must extend into Rutgers and universities, as well. There should be an increased emphasis on students learning about cyber threats and how best to protect against such threats. Additionally, Rutgers must continue making things transparent about cyber threats and attacks, just as they did with the Zoom-bombings.

Albertini, especially, should lead an office that is in constant communication with the student body — not just to provide updates on our digital safety but also to discuss what students themselves can do to mitigate risk.

The digital space is still new, and we are all still learning to live within it. We all need to learn more about the threats posed and what we can do to better protect ourselves.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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