Infosec's Cheerleader-In-Chief: Governor

Making Sure Citizens Take IT Security Seriously

Information security is "like a race with no finish line," says Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who details the efforts being made to improve the cybersecurity posture in his state.

"I think we've made some good progress in protecting our critical infrastructure," Markell said during a recent interview with Information Security Media Group's Eric Chabrow [transcript below]. "But there's always more work to be done."

Markell highlights some of the initiatives underway in Delaware, including a cyber challenge camp to attract young people to the field of information security, as well as the state progressing to the next phase of a cybersecurity community training program offered by the University of Texas.

The governor recognizes the privacy and security issues that show up in the daily headlines and how big of issues they are. "One of the things that we do is we try to empower the people in our agencies to spread the word both within state government and outside of state government," he says.

Markell sees his role as being able to offer support to the various professionals and agencies within Delaware who oversee cybersecurity efforts. "The most helpful thing is knowing how to surround myself with people who really know what they're doing and then empowering them," Markell says.

In the interview, Markell addresses:

  • How he keeps abreast of the latest cybersecurity threats and challenges;
  • IT security accomplishment's the state of Delaware achieved during his nearly four-year tenure as governor;
  • How his background as a top executive at wireless provider Nextel, now part of Sprint, helps him understand information technology and IT security.

The tech-savvy Markell, elected governor in 2008, is running for re-election. He previously served as the elected Delaware state treasurer. As treasurer, then Gov. Ruth Ann Minner asked Markell to chair the state Information Services Task Force, which developed and implemented recommendations to modify the state's management of information technology.

Before being Markell elected to statewide office, he served a senior vice president for corporate development at Nextel, a name he says he coined. Markell was the 13th person hired at Nextel. He also held a senior management position at cable provider Comcast, worked as a consultant with McKinsey and Co. and as a banker at First Chicago.

Delaware's Cybersecurity Initiatives

ERIC CHABROW: As a leader of state government, how do you see your role in assuring not only the security of state IT systems but those in the private sector that are so vital to Delaware?

JACK MARKELL: I think we've made some very good progress in protecting our critical information infrastructure, but there's always more work to be done because really this is like a race with no finish line. We've got a very good team in place. We're focusing on this everyday. We're the only state to be selected to advance to phase two of the Cybersecurity Community Training Program that's offered by the University of Texas. We're one of the first states in the nation to host a cyber challenge camp to attract young people to pursue a career in information security. Every year we have state employees as well as outside partners spending time in elementary schools reinforcing Internet safety. We've got a number of things that we do.

Top IT Concerns

CHABROW: You hear a lot about cyber threats and successful breaches that occur. What worries you the most about IT security and how do you articulate those concerns and to whom?

MARKELL: As you say, IT security as well as privacy issues are in the headlines everyday, to the multi-billion dollar industry of identity theft, extortion and fraud. One of the things I do is take advantage of briefings offered by the FBI or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I make sure I inform myself by reading the monthly newsletters published by our own Department of Technology Information, and one of the things that we do is we try to empower the people in our agencies, and certainly a very fine team led by Elayne Starkey in our Department of Technology Information, to spread the word both within state government and outside of state government.

Role of the Governor

CHABROW: Your specific role though - how do you see yourself getting what you feel should be done executed?

MARKELL: In my role as governor, what I really need to do is make sure the people in the organizations are empowered to do what they do, and so part of it means being a cheerleader, part of it means asking the right questions and part of it means surrounding myself with great people like Elayne Starkey, and others in the department, and to make sure they're doing the work that they need to do. They're always, obviously, going to be subject matter experts much more than me, but I need to make sure that people throughout this state are taken very seriously the cautions and the guidance that they offer.

Experience at Nextel

CHABROW: You were one of the first employees at Nextel, correct?

MARKELL: Yes, that's correct.

CHABROW: You're coming from a security background. How much has that been valuable for you as governor?

MARKELL: I think it helps, although I think these days everybody has to be more and more aware, because no matter what your background, some of the issues that are being raised and some of the technology advances being made by the bad guys could threaten everybody. So I think it's helpful, but I think the most helpful thing is knowing how to surround myself with people who really know what they're doing and then empowering them.

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