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Tri-Laterial conference speaker to address issues of critical infrastructure protection

When Dr. Phyllis Schneck first noticed an FBI agent in one of her lectures, she mistakenly thought she was about to be arrested for outstanding parking tickets.  Instead, the agent was actually approaching her for assistance — something that Schneck highlights with a grin when re-telling the story.


May 29, 2009
By Nancy Argyle

Today, Schneck, who is McAfee’s vice-president and director of threat intelligence (for the Americas), leads a unique effort that is focused on, as she describes it, “what it will take to protect your lifestyle.”  

Over the past decade, Schneck has worked her way up from writing code for the protection of public infrastructure in the 1990s to becoming a recognized leader in cyber protection and security issues.  In her role with McAfee, she continues to liaise with numerous law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, where she says she is impressed with the “amazing talent” in these organizations.  “It’s not like in the movies,” she adds, with a chuckle.

With a PhD in high performance computing and years of insightful, real-world experience, Schneck says we are still 10 years behind in the protection of critical infrastructure.  “It’s not a criticism, but a call to action,” she says.  “Because any cyber event, intended or not, has real physical consequences.”

Critical infrastructure protection is a passionate subject for Schneck — one in which she is adamant that “intelligence is the key to moving forward.”  Viruses and worms no longer hold the same level of threat compared to the potential to do serious harm to critical infrastructure.   

In the United States, critical infrastructure is defined as systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the country that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on national security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.  


Policy makers have determined that there are 18 critical infrastructure sectors: agriculture and food, banking and finance, chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial bases, emergency services, energy, government facilities, information technology, national monuments and icons, nuclear reactors, materials and waste, postal and shipping, public health and health care, transportation systems, and water.

With a heavy reliance on electricity, Schneck considers the energy sector as one of the most important resources on the list.  Unfortunately, as she points out, some systems, in use today, were installed so long ago that almost “no one on the planet knows them anymore.”  

“And, with a 40-year-old system, you may not want to do a patch or update for fear of a possible failure,” explains Schneck.

With so many systems at risk by being connected or monitored remotely through the Internet, Schneck and her teams at McAfee continue to develop a variety of protection options that will, ultimately, create a “living and breathing” response.  

As a speaker at the upcoming Tri-Lateral Security Conference in Calgary, June 18-19, Schneck will be offering additional insight into the protection of critical energy systems and the advances that McAfee has made in this area.  It’s a topic that perfectly complements this year’s conference theme of Securing a Sustainable Society: Critical Infrastructure and Public Safety.  Schneck will also be talking about the McAfee Threat Intelligence Center and the company’s “160 million points of presence.”  


Schneck was the moderator of the White House Town Hall meeting for the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.  She is also responsible for creating the first overall strategic plan to involve the private sector in integrated infrastructure protection.