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Black Hat DC: U.S. Must Consider Impact Of 'Militarization' Of Cyberspace

Homeland security and cybersecurity expert Paul Kurtz calls for public debate on cyberweapons, cyberattack response, and the role of the intelligence community

WASHINGTON -- BLACK HAT DC -- The United States is unprepared to respond to a cyber-Katrina or cyberwarfare attack and must consider three hot-button issues as the new administration formulates its cybersecurity strategy: the role of the intelligence community, cyberweapons deployment, and who should be in charge of the nation's response to a cyberattack, said cybersecurity and homeland security expert Paul Kurtz today during his keynote address here at Black Hat DC.

Kurtz, who worked on the Obama transition team but is not part of the new administration, had been mentioned as a front-runner for a possible cybersecurity czar position in the administration. Kurtz emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the administration here, and he would not discuss what recommendations he has given President Obama and his team.

"Who is in charge [in the event of] a cyber-Katrina?" said Kurtz, who served on homeland security councils for both the Clinton and Bush administrations and is now a security consultant with Good Harbor. "Is it the FCC? DHS? Commerce? The White House? No one has an answer to that, and that's pretty darn scary."

As the new administration fleshes out its policies for cybersecurity, the industry should consider a topic that historically has been "a little taboo." he says: "The militarization of cyberspace."

The administration is currently conducting a 60-day review of the nation's cybersecurity, under the leadership of Melissa Hathaway, who helped craft former president George W. Bush's cyberdefense plan.

Kurtz said the key to fighting cyberattacks is fusing intelligence data with information gathered by law enforcement and industry security experts. "We're not connecting the dots," he said. "I would argue that the NSA does have a very important role [in this]," he says.

But that would obviously entail the proper congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies, he said. "The information generated through commercial [entities today] is not synthesized with intelligence's information for a truly synoptic picture of where the attacks are coming from," Kurtz said. "It has been ad hoc at best."

Who would be in charge of this coordinated effort? It could be headed by a sort of national counter-terrorism center for cyberspace, which would facilitate the process but not replace security companies' research efforts in cybercrime, he said.

Kurtz says cyberweapons require a deterrence policy, and to successfully deter an attack, you first need a capability to trace the origin of the attack. "I would argue that we need an active capability to trace back attacks," which requires the collaboration among industry, law enforcement, and the intelligence community, he said. Then cyberweapons can be developed and potentially used to "suppress the use of kinetic weaponry."

"That makes the physical battle less important. We haven't had this discussion to date," he said. And the U.S. cannot go it alone, either, he added.

If the U.S. cyberinfrastructure were to be attacked or knocked offline today, there is no structure in place to get it back online, he said. "Is there a FEMA for the Internet? I don't think so," Kurtz said.

Kurtz said he posed these traditionally taboo topics today to generate some public debate. "The presidential review should look at these issues]," he said. "We need to have more public discourse about this...We need to start moving."

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 Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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