Policy Conundrum

Media attention has focus on this issue

Cybersecurity isn’t the sexiest topic for presidential candidates right now, but controversial legislation, massive security breaches and increasing tension with China are keeping media attention on the issue. This means that lawmakers and politicians are going to have to grapple with the issue sooner rather than later.

So far, presidential candidates and elected officials have addressed cybersecurity only in the most general terms. The cyber security problem isn’t going to remain in the background though; it is entwined in many crucial U.S. issues including terrorism, consumer privacy, consumer financial protections, healthcare information security and concerns about government and nationstate intrusion. The reality is that our representatives mean well, but they don’t understand this complex issue well enough to propose meaningful solutions. To date, cyber security proposals have been the equivalent of offering a Band-Aid to a stabbing victim.

A few of the candidates have mentioned cyber security in their comments, but there is a big difference between a candidate who has a cybersecurity policy and a candidate who has an understanding of cybersecurity. A recent survey of cybersecurity professionals found that 68 percent of them would prefer to vote for a presidential candidate with a strong cybersecurity policy. The question is: how will we gain confidence that any candidate grasps the issues enough to improve things?

I posit that information security professionals are part of this policy problem. We aren’t engaged in helping our government put together realistic solutions. We want policymakers to provide leadership on this critical issue, but when they do we point out the deficiencies of their proposals and trash their limited understanding of the problem without engaging to make things better. From our perspective, everyone in a policy making position falls short. Unfortunately, this behavior leads to one of two equally undesirable outcomes.

  • Faulty legislation with limited impact gets rubber stamped.
  • We question and criticize proposed solutions until legislative experts give up.

Developing effective cybersecurity policy is a two-way street. Cyber security is a complicated issue that is in a state of constant change; there are no simple solutions. We need our politicians to “know what they don’t know,” actively engage with the technical community and make it easier for non-politicians to participate in a substantive way. Input through “open comments” on a web site just won’t cut it. Collaboration technologies have improved exponentially in the last few years, so we may be able to leverage technology to help, for example.

The technical community needs to stop complaining and reach out to elected officials with the intention finding a way to contribute to the evolution of effective policies. Nothing is going to change for the better until the technical community finds a way to engage. We have the knowledge and expertise to help craft meaningful proposals. We can’t continue to dismiss every effort as worthless.

The bottom line is that everyone wants to solve this problem for the greater good; everyone wants to make a difference. We’re just not doing that very well…yet.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.

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