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Perimeter

7/28/2009
01:50 AM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
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Obama Administration Going Soft On Cybersecurity

Viruses, botnets with international botmasters, denial-of-service attacks on government properties, cyberbullying, and the increasing threat of identity theft plague every resident, from child to adult, regardless of whether they are actually ever online -- U.S. cybersecurity has been little more than a bad joke.

Viruses, botnets with international botmasters, denial-of-service attacks on government properties, cyberbullying, and the increasing threat of identity theft plague every resident, from child to adult, regardless of whether they are actually ever online -- U.S. cybersecurity has been little more than a bad joke.And despite promises, the risks continue while the current administration fiddles around and does virtually nothing.

So Much Promise When Barack Obama came to office, there was a substantial amount of hope that he would get cybersecurity part right. After all, he had successfully used technology heavily during his campaign, relying on social network tools and other Web properties to manage and focus his base of supporters. He seemed to understand the risk, as well, because his own computer system was attacked during the campaign.

Obama laid out a strong, five-point cybersecurity plan that included a substantial education program designed to keep pace with technology, and to attract, and retain, the experts needed to protect the nation from these very real threats. He promised not to disrupt U.S. businesses while he was working to protect them and their customers from these ever increasing threats, while the Department of Defense was going to create a Cyber Command to improve and protect military networks from hostile attacks, as well.

It sounded serious. It sounded like this time there would be results. It sounded like this president understood the threat and was going to move against it. Unfortunately -- as is often the case -- politics got in the way, and the end result was largely status quo: U.S. citizens and businesses remain largely unprotected by the government that was supposed to serve them.

So Little Progress At the core of the problem is the unwillingness for anyone with any real security capability or knowledge to take what has become a joke of a job, the cyber czar. There is a rule in business that says you want to see a balance of responsibility and authority, but this role appears to be long on responsibility. In other words, it will aggregate blame like a magnet, and the poor sap who gets this job will likely be crucified by Congress. Don't even get me started about the volume of bureaucracy sure to result in sheer frustration. A handful of qualified people have already refused job, including former senator and now Deloitte director Tom Davis, Microsoft executive Scott Charney, and Good Harbor Consulting executive Paul Kurtz. They balked that the position didn't report into the president, but instead to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, neither of which agree on much in the first place. An idea of this nasty conflict resulted after John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snow (R-Maine) proposed a bill designed to set standards across government agencies, contractors, and solution providers. Leslie Harris, who is president and chief executive of the Center for Democracy & Technology, stepped in against it, arguing it would stifle innovation and do economic harm. Her idea that the cyber czar should work with both sides of the White House is a good one, but you'd never reach the consensus needed to move forward. The person in the job has to make balanced decisions. Wrapping Up: We're Fracked A report issued jointly by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen makes clear that U.S. citizens and their government are screwed when it comes to cybersecurity. The report details who should be hired, provides a checklist of what should be done, and lays out how the bill mentioned above would substantially improve the U.S.'s cybersecurity preparedness. It is well-argued, though as of this writing, it also appears to be pointless. In trying to address everything for everyone, it looks to me like President Obama is missing on all cylinders. And in the end that's not going to protect U.S. citizens or the nation they reside in.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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