On the Front Lines

At Camp Williams, near Salt Lake City, UT, a $1.5-billion National Security Agency (NSA) data center is rising against the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

The official name for this facility is the Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center. Thankfully, the federal government recently shortened this moniker to a much simpler title: the Utah Data Center.

The data center in the Beehive State will create 15,000 jobs as the crown jewel of the NSA’s counteroffensive against a growing threat to U.S. security: cyberwar. Ground was broken in January and work on the site is expected to be completed next year.

NSA may want to speed up this schedule in the wake of a new government report that declares the U.S. woefully unprepared to deal with cyberattacks.

A study, commissioned last year by President Obama to assess the nation’s ability to respond to terrorist attacks and natural disasters, has found that state and local officials have the most confidence in their public health and medical services but are the most concerned about their ability to respond to cyberattacks.

The report, conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, praised the coordination between federal, state and local officialsfor sharing information and intelligence, and the ability of authorities to deploy lifesaving and life-sustaining operations quickly.

But report said that cybersecurity “was the single core capability where states had made the least amount of overall progress” and that only 42 percent of state and local officials believed that their cybersecurity was adequate.

Although a little more than 80 percent of officials said they had adopted cybersecurity measures, 45 percent said they did not have a formal program to prevent and respond to attacks. The report said that roughly two-thirds of those officials reported that they had not updated their “information security or disaster recovery plans in at least two years.”

The report did cite the Secret Service for “dismantling some of the largest known cybercriminal organizations.” The Secret Service, the report said, has dismantled the organizations using 31 cyber task forces, including ones in Rome and London.

The report said that a little less than two-thirds of the companies in the United States had sustained cyberattacks and that “only 50 percent of owners and operators at high-priority facilities” like electrical grids said that they report cyberattacks.

Since 2006, there has been a 650 percent increase in the number of reported cyberattacks in the United States, rising to 41,776 in 2010 from 5,503 in 2006, according to the report.

The Utah site was chosen for the NSA data center over 37 other locations, primarily because of favorable energy costs, broadband infrastructure, a thriving software industry and proximity to Salt Lake City International Airport.