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12/8/2008
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U.S. Losing Cyberspace Security Battle

The incoming Obama administration has more than two dozen recommendations to about how to more effectively defend cyberspace, as part of a CSIS commission report.

A new cybersecurity report released on Monday by the Center for Strategic & International Studies Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency warns that America is losing the battle to protect cyberspace.

The CSIS report, "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency," states that cybersecurity "is a strategic issue on par with weapons of mass destruction and global jihad" and that it "can no longer be relegated to information technology offices and chief information officers."

Identifying cybersecurity as one of the major national security issues facing the country, the commission's report calls for a comprehensive national security strategy that also respects American values related to privacy and civil liberties.

"[G]reater security must reinforce citizens' rights, not come at their expense," the report states.

The report suggests that America's strategic situation today is analogous to Germany's during World War II, when German military leaders overestimated the strength of their cryptographic codes.

"The United States is in a similar position today, but we are not playing the role of the British [who cracked Germany's Enigma codes]," the report says. "Foreign opponents, through a combination of skill, luck, and perseverance, have been able to penetrate poorly protected U.S. computer networks and collect immense quantities of valuable information."

America, in other words, has been hacked.

Marcus Sachs, executive director of government affairs and national security policy at Verizon and a member of the CSIS commission, thinks the analogy is a fair one. "Unfortunately, that's what we're facing at the moment," he said in a phone interview.

He argues that cybersecurity must become a national priority. "The essence of cyberspace is now the soul of our country," he said. "This is what we are. A hundred years ago, you'd have said heavy industry is our soul. Now it's cyberspace."

"The reality is that the secret briefings given to the president, the National Security Council, and others show MUCH greater losses than have been publicly acknowledged," said Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, in an e-mail. "The proof, if you need confirmation, comes from President Bush's approval of the 11 digit (tens of billions of dollars) price tag for the new Cyber Initiative that the commission report says should be built upon. That's a huge price tag and you can guess what was disclosed to him to get that level of spending."

The report makes more than two dozen recommendations to the incoming Obama administration about how to more effectively defend cyberspace. These include a declaration of commitment to protecting cyberspace, increased organizational efforts to coordinate such protection, rebuilding public-private partnerships toward that end, regulations for securing critical cybe infrastructure, and stronger identity management capabilities, among others.

Many of the recommendations are similar to policy initiatives promised by President-elect Obama on Change.gov. Sachs said that's not coincidental, noting that many of those contributing to the report are part of the Obama administration's transition team. And that's a good thing, as he sees it, because neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration had similar advice months before taking office.

The report acknowledges that different constituencies -- privacy, law enforcement, business, technology, and national security -- may have differing or discordant views on the subject of cybersecurity. It argues that this diversity of viewpoints can become our strength "if we make the broad national interest the lodestar for our decisions."

InformationWeek has done its own independent assessment of cybersecurity. Download the 2008 report here (registration required).

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