he top spy on the National Security Agency and a retired congressman who headed the House Intelligence Committee were in Raleigh on Monday to discuss cyber threats in an increasingly wired world.

Admiral Michael Rogers, the NSA director, and former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers were part of a panel discussion at North Carolina State University’s Emerging Issues Forum, talking about the trade-offs between privacy and the security of personal data and business networks. (The Forum concludes today.)

After data breaches at retailers such as Target, Home Depot and eBay and most recently insurer Anthem, all of which affected millions of people, Mike Rogers said people are becoming blasé about the threat to their security.

“Most people yawn,” he said. “They got a new credit card in the mail. It didn’t cost them any money. They thought, ‘It’s not my problem, move along.'”

The panelists said the Sony Pictures hack was different and far more serious because it involved a foreign country, North Korea, trying to destroy a U.S. company.

Kevin Mandia, senior vice president and chief operating officer of FireEye Inc., a major cybersecurity firm, said such attacks will happen again.

“I have no doubt the next time there’s an impending war or threat a physical war somewhere in the world, there will be a cyber component to that aggression,” Mandia said.

Mike Rogers said it’s not just the private sector, noting the country’s economic infrastructure, from financial networks to utilities, has been under attack for years.

“The Chinese were aggressive enough to get on our electric grid, not because they were going to do anything but they were prepping the battlefield,” he said. “They’re ready to go if they have to flip the switch and turn out the lights on the East Coast.”

Admiral Rogers said the country has to change how it thinks about cybersecurity. It’s no longer the IT guy’s problem, he said, it’s everyone’s problem.

Panelists said businesses shouldn’t have a single password that unlocks every computer in their system, and they need to get serious about educating employees on how to protect the systems.

Admiral Rogers called for more public-private cooperation and stronger consequences for groups or countries that attack U.S. interests.

“What is the tipping point?” he said. “My biggest fear personally is why do we have to wait until we get into some major, catastrophic scenario to suddenly say to ourselves, ‘You know, we probably should have do a whole lot more in advance of this.'”


Reporter: Laura Leslie
Photographer: Andrew Cumbee
Web Editor: Matthew Burns