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Ask Not What Cybersecurity Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Cybersecurity

Whether or not cybersecurity is mentioned directly in the inaugural address, there is little doubt that questions of national information security have been on President-elect Obama's mind. Question is, will he make personal cybersecurity a national issue as well?
Whether or not cybersecurity is mentioned directly in the inaugural address, there is little doubt that questions of national information security have been on President-elect Obama's mind. Question is, will he make personal cybersecurity a national issue as well?Notwithstanding the furor over whether or not the new president would be allowed to keep his Blackberry, not to mention to high level of Internet awareness that marked (and marketed!) the campaign and its candidate, other IT issues, and particularly IT security issues have enjoyed some prominence in the incoming administration's members and circles of advisers.

In an address last summer, candidate Obama listed cybersecurity (he deploys it, actually, as two words) as one of the three great security challenges, the others being nuclear and biological weapons, saying,

"As President, Ill make cyber security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century. Ill declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset, and appoint a National Cyber Advisor who will report directly to me. Well coordinate efforts across the federal government, implement a truly national cyber-security policy, and tighten standards to secure information  from the networks that power the federal government, to the networks that you use in your personal lives."

Will these be points and promises be echoed during the Inauguration? Possibly in passing -- so much to say, so little time! -- but we can certainly hope to hear more about them in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps even see some action taken to shore up our national cyber infrastructure.

But there's one area of cybersecurity that could use just as much attention -- and could especially benefit from a national call to cyber arms.

That's personal cybersecurity. And I mean personal in the sense of individual users at their personal machines, but also personal security at work, at public access terminals, with cell phones, iPods, thumb drives and any digital device.

Look: we've had months -- it seems like years -- of those ads about the coming switch from analog to digital TV; we hear endless debate over who can and can't use a cell phone while driving; txtng is spawning its own army of arguments pro and con.

But when was the last time you heard a public service ad, much less a politician, stress the importance of up-to-date anti-malware tools or the virtues of patching promptly?

When, for that matter, was the last time you heard or saw any kind of cybersecurity story unless there's been a breach of personal data, or an eruption of wormwar?

This is as good a time as any -- and better, in some ways, than most -- to make personal cybersecurity a national issue. Our politicians -- not just at the presidential level -- could do a lot worse than take the position that operating a digital device is a matter requiring at least as much personal responsibility and attention to safety as driving a car. (Although, considering how people drive, that might not be the best example.)

As we move through the transition and into the early months of the new administration. it would be nice to hear the occasional speech aimed at reminding all of us that fixing the problems in our national cyber-infrastructure includes serious national security efforts, ongoing efforts to attract and train the next generation of IT workers... and the constant, daily need for every citizen using a digital device to understand the risks accompanying the device, as well as the opportunities it offers.

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