5/12/2009
02:22 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Secure360: The Triumph Of Politics (Over Security)

While listening to former special adviser for cyberspace security for the White House this morning, Howard Schmidt, talk candidly about information security at the Secure360 conference here in Saint Paul, MN - I began wondering: why didn't we implement the original National Strategy To Secure Cyberspace?

While listening to former special adviser for cyberspace security for the White House this morning, Howard Schmidt, talk candidly about information security at the Secure360 conference here in Saint Paul, MN - I began wondering: why didn't we implement the original National Strategy To Secure Cyberspace?This is from a story I wrote, way back in 2002, on the original National Strategy To Secure Cyberspace:

While execs seemed relieved with the lack of mandates, some experts criticized the plan, saying the government needs to establish both incentives for companies that invest in security and punishment for those that don't. "Mandatory reporting by the government to some central authority with meaningful sanctions" is needed, says Mark Rasch, former Department of Justice computer-crime prosecutor. Rasch, now an attorney specializing in the legal aspects of information security, cited tax incentives as one incentive.

We didn't get any of those mandates, and we didn't get much in the way of IT security surrounding the IT infrastructure. Heck: we didn't even get incentives. In fact, in many ways, we got nothing. And in so many ways, the national IT security problem has gotten worse.

Today, when looking back at the plan Schmidt helped to create, Schmidt said he believes the plan was 100 percent on target, but that it was never executed.

I agree. The plan was thorough and it was loaded with common sense, and, if implemented, the plan would have surely increased the security of the critical infrastructure, and the IT security of our telcos, the power grid, our air traffic control system, and other critical services that now flow through the network. They certainly wouldn't be in as sad of shape they are in now.

But it wasn't implemented, because it wasn't mandated. The business lobbyists won in the end, and the politicians pulled every tooth from the draft legislation before it was made public. Sarbanes-Oxley, SB 1386, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard - these are taken seriously because they are mandated by government or industry. And they have some teeth.

During his talk, Schmidt hinted at perhaps why we didn't see many mandates in the original plan. Rarely, he said, has he met someone in the state legislature that came from an information security, or even a technology background. They just don't get IT.

For an example, he cited a congresswoman who he wouldn't name (but described as a "very active Congresswoman from California) who wanted to bring an end to spyware. "She said she was tired of her constituents calling and complaining about spyware, and we are going to write a law to stop it," Schmidt explained.

Apparently, he was asked to review the antispyware law, and it didn't fly well with him. "The way the law was written, pushing updates to operating systems and routers would have been illegal."

I get what he is saying, and agree wholeheartedly. And it's always a concern when lawmakers try to legislate technology. But security mandates don't have to be that granular. They can mandate that best practices be adhered. They can mandate periodic audits by third-parties, among other things, are conducted. They can mandate fines.

But, again: we don't have any of that. And, today, the National Strategy To Secure Cyberspace has collected dust for the better part of a decade. That's a lot of lost time. That's a lot of bad practices now entrenched into the system that need righting.

To that end, President Obama aide Melissa Hathaway has already completed her cyber security review, and the only reason it hasn't been released yet is because of a lingering debate over what the White House's role should be in the effort to secure cyberspace. The plan is expected to be released as early as this week, though I'm hearing on the street that it won't be until next week - at the earliest.

I'm looking forward to seeing the plan. Though, I'm not expecting much.

I don't have hope for the success of this administration's ability to secure the critical infrastructure. Especially if this Washington Post story is correct, it looks like we are in store for little more than another triumph of politics over security:

The extent to which the government should direct or guide actions by owners of private commercial systems remains a matter of sharp disagreement with industry and civil liberties groups and probably will be deferred, said sources who have been briefed on the discussions.

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