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8/3/2009
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At Black Hat, Cloud Of Doubt Hovers Over Government Initiatives

Security industry should not be waiting around for government to lead, speakers say

LAS VEGAS -- BLACK HAT USA 2009 -- Cyber czar, cyber schmar. If you're waiting for the government to take the lead in the cybersecurity industry, then you're going to have a long wait.

That was the consensus of cybersecurity experts here this week, including some former government officials and others who are still in prominent government positions. Their message: The security industry should get on with its work, regardless of what Congress and President Obama might (or might not) do.

"A lot of people [in government] don't really want to start any programs because they're afraid that a cyber czar will come in and change everything," said Marchus Sachs, executive director of national security and cyber policy at Verizon, volunteer director of the SANS Internet Storm Center, and a member of the Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency. "I think it's a mistake to wait for the entrance of a cyber czar riding an elephant with a big parade behind. This country still doesn't have a comprehensive response plan for a cyberattack.

"I think we have to ask ourselves, 'Do we really need a cyber czar to do any of this?' Are we really that hopeless that we have to wait on some sort of second coming? The Internet is not run by one person. These problems are not going to be solved by one person."

Other experts also expressed concern that the nation's cybersecurity initiatives should be so government-focused. "To think that government is at the center of all of our infrastructure security efforts is fallacy," said Amit Yoran, the former head of the National Cyber Security Division who is now CEO of Netwitness. "We shouldn't be looking to Washington for answers."

With health care, the economy, and so many other issues in play, "I think we need to recognize that we [in cybersecurity] are not very important right now," Yoran added, which means a strong impetus from the federal government is probably not forthcoming.

The appointment of a cyber czar may also take some time, experts said. Several speakers made reference to reports that several likely candidates have expressed reluctance to accept such an appointment, unclear about exactly how much power the cyber czar would be given, or whether it would be possible to coordinate so many disparate cybersecurity efforts within government.

"As it stands right now, the cyber czar would have two bosses -- the National Security Council and National Economic Council -- as well as a chief information officer and chief technology officer," noted Greg Garcia, the former assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at the Department of Homeland Security who now serves as an independent consultant. "In addition, that individual would have to herd all of the cats at DHS and other agencies. Those are big shoes to fill -- in fact, I'm skeptical that anyone could succeed in the [cyber czar] job."

And although several cybersecurity bills are in Congress, it seems unlikely that any new legislation will be passed until the country deals with higher-priority problems, experts said. "Politicians will come to these issues if there's a problem -- a huge data breach, for example," said Ray Kessenich, former assistant director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. "But it's very rare that they're proactive on cybersecurity."

Part of the reason that government doesn't act more quickly on cybersecurity is because the costs and benefits aren't well understood, said Rod Beckstrom, the former director of the National Cyber Security Center who is now president and CEO of ICANN. Beckstrom presented a new model for assessing the economics of security at the Defcon conference this past weekend.

"You have to understand the value of the network before you can put a value on its security," Beckstrom said.

Many of the week's speakers praised President Obama's May speech on cybersecurity, in which he stated that the issues are real and that the White House plans to act swiftly.

"I found it encouraging," Yoran said. "But will we see some action? I don't know, and I don't think the industry should be waiting around to find out."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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