Condoleezza Rice warns against threat of cyber warfare at Citrix Synergy 2018

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

10 May, 2018

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice warned against the growing threat of cyber warfare in an address at Citrix’s annual Synergy conference hosted in Anaheim, California.

In a half-hour speech, and follow-up Q&A session, Rice – who served under George HW Bush and George W Bush – spoke broadly on a range of subjects including the new geopolitical landscape, advancements in technology, and women in STEM.

“As somebody once said you either have been hacked and know it, or you have been hacked and don’t know it,” she told an audience of more than 5,000 at the Anaheim Convention Centre.

“People, particularly countries, are getting more aggressive at it, they’re getting more capable at it, and I don’t think anybody thought coming round the corner that the Russians would actually use bots and the like, to use infinity loops, to try stir chaos in American politics.

“That one I didn’t see coming and I have been a Russianist for a long time. And so people are finding ever-more innovative and creative ways for malevolence using cyber.”

Rice also outlined three points to address the growing threat of cyber warfare, including better cooperation between the private sector and government, more effort to get some expertise on boards, and that people can be “really stupid” when it comes to cyber.

She lamented Homeland Security, which she said she helped create, as a “monstrosity of an organisation” as it is really hard to use as an interface, adding the Edward Snowden leaks “really eroded any trust between the private sector and the government”.

After outlining her point that companies should be better utilising specialists and experts on their boards, Rice then went on to claim that “human beings are the real problem”.

According to Rice, a US intelligence agency conducted an experiment once where they took a USB drive and dropped it in the car park. She said a high percentage of people, who worked for the agency, picked it up and put it into their computer, concluding “human beings can’t resist doing things that are really stupid from a cyber point of view”.

Elsewhere in her address, Rice outlined her views on the biggest geopolitical issues facing democracy right now – including North Korea and Iran – as well as discussing her views on why Trump and Brexit appealed to many voters.

“The people who didn’t quite benefit from globalisation, and who are now being even further disrupted by automation are the people for whom it is worth it to take a chance, because it couldn’t get worse,” she said, adding that people with global power are failing to speak the language and connect with those who have genuine concerns.

Meanwhile, Rice outlined how technology may not always be married up with the appropriate level of wisdom, explaining “technology is not good, or bad, it’s neutral – the question is how is it applied”.

Amongst dipping into areas such as R&D investment, competing with Chinese, and the key threats facing the US, Rice outlined how to boost the position of women in tech.

“With girls in particular, the first thing is to educate them in a way that they don’t cut off their options early; so this is the issue of women not being STEM-ready when they get to college because they were somehow not convinced to get ready in elementary school – or even high school,” she said. 

“You hear the ‘we can’t find any women for our board’… uh, really? Yeah you can. There are lots of them out there, and it just comes from looking out of your normal channels; maybe it’s not an ex-CEO but maybe it’s someone who comes from government, or academia, or from cybersecurity – not a bad thing to have on your board these days.”