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My Turn: Candidates must get serious about cybersecurity

Last modified: 9/19/2015 12:13:00 AM
For years, nation states have been stealing our intellectual property and government secrets. Criminals steal our credit card data from our largest retailers. Hacktivists break into our government systems, disclosing sensitive information.

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t read about a high-profile data breach. And, it’s likely to get worse. Why?

Over the last decade and for the foreseeable future, digital technology has shaped, and will continue to shape, every aspect of our lives. People, data, and all manner of devices are being connected to one another through the ubiquitous internet at speeds and volumes that would have been unimaginable at the start of the millennium. We as a nation have prospered greatly as a result. But, because we are leaders in technology innovation and adoption, we have built the biggest digital glass house in the world. Our ability to communicate, our critical infrastructure, and our very economic and physical well-being are tied into this increasing wave of digital technology.

As a result, we are the most vulnerable country in the world.

So why aren’t we doing more to protect ourselves?

The sheer scope and complexity of technology adoption, exacerbated by ongoing technological innovation, makes the problem difficult to understand. Societal norms for privacy and the rule of law have not evolved to meet the needs of today’s digital world, and there is significant disagreement as to how those norms should be established. And the public and private sector can’t agree on how best to create a partnership in everyone’s mutual interest.

Nevertheless, the situation is not hopeless. But solving the problem will require much stronger and sustained leadership.

That is why I have joined an organization started by former congressman Mike Rogers, Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security, in order to drive presidential candidates beyond talking points and force them to flesh out policy positions and strategies that will effect actual change, strengthening the security of our country.

Over the coming election cycle, we should be looking for candidates who are willing to attack this issue head on with comprehensive policy positions that address the concerns and needs of all constituencies: the private sector that controls 85 percent of our nation’s critical infrastructure; law enforcement, that strives so hard to protect us from unseen enemies and criminals; our departments of Homeland Security and Defense, which, along with our intelligence agencies, must find and stop terrorists and defend us from nations that would harm us economically or physically; citizen/consumers and privacy advocates, who have legitimate concerns about our personal freedoms and how our personal information is used; and our allies, who should be working more closely with us against the whole spectrum of adversaries.

In the coming months, look for candidates who have a sense of urgency and understand that the digital age moves in nanoseconds, not two, four, or six-year election or procurement cycles. Look for candidates who have strong technical and legal advisers who have helped them develop a cybersecurity policy comprehensive enough to protect us combined with a transparent governance model. Look for candidates who have the experience and ability to form a deep public-private partnership, a partnership that ensures the protection of critical infrastructure and the mutual, liability-free sharing of information with the government, which includes appropriate privacy safeguards.

And, finally, look for candidates who will engage our allies respectfully, but with purpose and leadership, while holding countries that attack us online accountable – substantively, not symbolically.

Our government must have the ability to defend us. The stakes are too high and will only get higher. We have allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by the emotion and complexity of the problem for too long. We must come together as a country to solve it. We can no longer afford the luxury of arguing among ourselves.

It’s time to do the right thing. Let’s start by electing the right candidates who take seriously one of the greatest threats we now face.

(Art Coviello is a cyber security expert and a member of the APPS-New Hampshire Advisory Board.)


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