EDITORIAL: U.S. must improve cybersecurity
Apr 05, 2012 (Houston Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Over the past decade, the cyber has supplanted the physical in so many important aspects of life, whether communication, commerce or, as is increasingly apparent, espionage. But as the world has changed, Congress has moved at dial-up speeds when it comes to protecting national and private interests on the Internet.
As Richard A. Clarke wrote in Tuesday's New York Times, U.S. companies are under constant assault from foreign hackers, particularly in China, who steal massive amounts of data and intellectual property. As counter-terrorism adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and adviser on cybersecurity to President George W. Bush, Clarke brings considerable expertise to his argument. In one mind-boggling example in his Times essay, he described how an American company had all of its data from a 10-year, $1 billion research program copied overnight by hackers. Clarke also cited the assessment of Gen. Keith B. Alexander, head of the military's Cyber Command, that these regular cyberthefts are "the greatest transfer of wealth in history."
Online piracy offers a way for China's adolescent, state-driven economy to play catchup with the competitive, private system in the United States. Unlike Cold War espionage, hackers in many cases aren't stealing for their government, they're stealing for businesses. As Baker Institute Fellow in Information Technology Christopher Bronk puts it, the head of Chinese Intelligence and the head of Chinese computer company Lenovo have the same boss: the Chinese government. And they are both working toward the same ends.
But while the business of America is business, espionage by the United States has mostly focused on other governments, rather than snooping on private enterprise in other countries. This gap between the two has left businesses on their own when it comes to cybersecurity, and leaves our government generally unable to force companies to accept help. So what can we do?
Congress is making progress on the matter, but not quickly enough. Republicans and Democrats both agree that the government needs to work with private businesses to improve security, but our legislators in Washington are getting bogged down in the usual partisan wrangling -- this time over whether the government should use incentives or punishments to get businesses to improve security and coordinate with law enforcement.
Clarke recommends that President Obama use the executive branch to enact cybersecurity programs, with or without Congress' help. But some of his recommendations, such as inspecting what enters and exits the United States in cyberspace and scanning Internet traffic outside the United States to find stolen data, raise important questions about personal privacy and unrestrained presidential power.
China shouldn't necessarily be a hostile enemy; it is an ambitious, and sometimes unscrupulous, competitor. And it is doing everything in its power to help itself. By failing to create a strong cyber-defense strategy, the United States is helping, too.
The president should take immediate steps, and Congress should follow, to help the U.S. protect our interests, implementing appropriate policy proposals as outlined by Clarke and the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency. Notably, the White House needs a strong National Office for Cyberspace to centralize and coordinate the diverse and ever-changing global cybersecurity issues. The federal government traditionally protects land, air, sea and space. Now is the time to focus on cyber.
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