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Commision: White House Should Take Lead In Cybersecurity

Congressional group recommends consolidation of cybersecurity efforts, government-led authentication, and further regulation of cyberspace
President-elect Barack Obama should take leadership of the U.S. cybersecurity effort, tie together the disparate federal initiatives, and expand regulation of cyberspace, according to recommendations issued today by the Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency.

The Commission was formed in August 2007 -- long before the election -- and has been studying the problem under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for more than a year. Co-chaired by U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Michael McCaul (D-Texas), it was formed expressly by members of Congress to study the U.S. cybersecurity problem and make recommendations to the next president on how to proceed.

The 63-page report, which will be discussed publicly for the first time tomorrow at the SC World Congress in New York, offers some strong recommendations for Obama and his administration. Interestingly, one of its most prominent suggestions is not to reinvent the current Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative (CNCI), which was announced a year ago by the Bush administration.

"Although the CNCI is not comprehensive, and unnecessary secrecy reduced its effect, we believe it is a good place to start," the report states.

However, the report does recommend significant changes in the government's approach to cybersecurity. First, it proposes "creating a new office for cyberspace in the Executive Office of the President. This office would combine existing entities and also work with the National Security Council in managing the many aspects of securing our national networks while protecting privacy and civil liberties. This new office can help begin the work of building an information-age government based on the new, more collaborative organizational models found in business."

The report also recommends more regulation of cyberspace -- but not through prescriptive compliance initiatives. "Voluntary action is not enough," the report says. "The United States must assess and prioritize risks and set minimum standards for securing cyberspace in order to ensure that the delivery of critical services in cyberspace continues if the United States is attacked.

"We advocate a new approach to regulation that avoids both prescriptive mandates, which could add unnecessary costs and stifle innovation, and overreliance on market forces, which are ill-equipped to meet national security and public safety requirements," the Commission adds.

The Commission proposes a mandate of strong authentication "based on robust in-person proofing and thorough verification of devices" for entities that are deemed to be part of the nation's critical infrastructure. "We spent much time constructing a recommendation that emphasized that if privacy and civil liberties are protected, the United States can mandate strong authentication for access to critical infrastructure," the report says. The U.S. should also allow consumers to use "strong government-issued credentials" for online activities, the report recommends.

The federal government should use its buying power to encourage vendors to develop secure products, the report suggests. "We recommend that the United States buy only secure products and services; standards and guidelines for secure products should be developed in partnership with industry," it says.

The Commission developed its report through interviews and meetings with the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community, "who told us that cybersecurity was one of the greatest challenges the United States faces in a new and more competitive international environment," the Commission says. "We face a long-term challenge in cyberspace from foreign intelligence agencies and militaries, criminals, and others, and losing this struggle will wreak serious damage on the economic health and national security of the United States."

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