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3/16/2011
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Why Cybersecurity Partnerships Matter

The public and private sectors must collaborate in new ways to ward off dangerous threats to critical systems and IT infrastructure.

Cybersecurity Codified

Lawmakers have been tilting at that windmill for years. A comprehensive bill, the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, is working its way through Congress. The bill would give the president authority to institute measures to protect telecommunications networks, the electric grid, financial systems, and other critical control systems in the event of a national emergency. Such presidential authority would be temporary, limited to 30-day increments, but broad, and critics complain that the legislation contains an "Internet kill switch." The senators behind the bill refute that characterization, but the controversy speaks to the sensitivity around government influence over systems and networks used by the public. Other pending legislation with implications for business are the International Cyberspace and Cybersecurity Coordination Act and the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act.

Not surprisingly, the tech industry and many businesses would rather see such changes driven by incentives than by new rules and regulations. A coalition of industry groups--the Business Software Alliance, Center for Democracy and Technology, Internet Security Alliance, TechAmerica, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce--recently released a report that argued for letting companies voluntarily adopt best practices in cybersecurity rather than have them mandated by government.

"There is concern that new policy initiatives may consider replacing the current model with an alternate system more reliant on government mandates directed at the private sector," the white paper states. "This change of direction would both undermine the progress that has been made and hinder efforts to achieve lasting success." The report presents recommendations in seven areas, including information sharing and incident management, to advance cybersecurity through public-private partnerships.

One trend that could directly lead to more secure public IT infrastructure is the government's push into cloud computing. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is calling on federal agencies to make increased use of software as a service and other cloud services, but before that happens, those services must meet federal security requirements. That presents a tremendous opportunity for the government to leverage its buying power to prompt cloud service providers to establish more attack-proof and resilient data centers and processes. Businesses and consumers stand to benefit from any such improvements, since they tap into the same cloud infrastructure.

Business and government IT and security pros must seize such opportunities because the threats are growing in number and severity. Information sharing has been an important first step, but it's what happens next that will make or break efforts to develop a more robust computing infrastructure.

Erik Bataller is senior security consultant with Chicago-based risk management consultancy Neohapsis. Write to us at iwletters@techweb.com.

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