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1/29/2010
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Government's Cybersecurity Role Gets Mixed Reaction

A survey of critical infrastructure executives finds mixed views on government's role in cybersecurity in the private sector.

A worldwide survey that shows widespread cyber attacks on critical infrastructure companies finds that the role of government in working to stop those attacks is up in the air. Indeed, a majority of respondents believes governments to be among the culprits.

Overall, more than half of the 600 industry executives surveyed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, with support from security vendor McAfee, think their nation's laws aren't strong enough to deter cyber attacks, and 45% believe that their countries are incapable of preventing attacks.

The survey comes as a heated debate has emerged about the proper role of government in bolstering cybersecurity in the private sector. In his first public speech as White House cyber coordinator earlier this week, Howard Schmidt said that fostering public-private partnerships is among his top agenda items.

The survey does find, by a thin margin, a belief that government regulation is improving security. "I have sensed for a year or more that industry, which used to think that the government didn't need to get involved, doesn't have any confidence that they can solve this problem on their own," Stewart Baker, distinguished visiting fellow at CSIS and a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson, said in an interview.

In all, 58% of respondents said that government regulation had "sharpened [corporate] policy and improved security." However, on this question, just as on others, the views diverge widely among different countries. In China and Germany, for example, more than 60% believe government regulation has been helpful, while only a minority held that view in Italy and Australia.

Only about a third of respondents said that they were involved in a public-private partnership. However, the report notes, that in some countries, such as the United States, where participation in those partnerships is higher, "data suggests that industry concerns persist about information-sharing being a one-way street."

Somewhat counter-intuitively, despite frequent reports of data breaches and successful cyber attacks against companies in the United States and the fact that survey respondents ranked the United States among the countries most vulnerable to attacks, they also looked to light regulation in the U.S. as a model for cybersecurity.

Part of the mixed view on government's role in private sector cybersecurity may come from the fact that many companies think they are in fact under attack from government cyber warriors. About 60% of respondents believe governments are already attacking their infrastructure, with the United States as the leading suspect, followed by China and Russia.

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