WASHINGTON July 28, 2010 –Speaking at a conference on cybersecurity hosted by the Department of Commerce yesterday, one expert argued that when it comes to cybersecurity threats, “we don’t need a new strategy.” The speaker, Philip Reitinger of the Department for Homeland Security, made the observation in the introduction to his remarks on how combating cybersecurity might be accomplished in the current climate.
“Heaven help us from a new strategy! We don’t need a new strategy. We need to evolve our strategy,” Reitinger said. “We can’t let the urgent completely trump the strategic and critical. We all depend upon an internet ecosystem that is fundamentally insecure. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s designed in a way for resiliency but not necessarily in a way with security built in.”
Reitinger’s remarks drew laughs from his fellow panelists Cita Furlani, Vint Cerf, Michael Barrett and Ken Silva in what was the fourth and final panel of the day-long conference.
The prospect of a “new strategy” for dealing with cybersecurity was, Reitinger’s speech excepted, cited as a necessity by almost every panelist and speaker at the event. One persistent theme that emerged from several speakers’ remarks was the market failure involved in creating incentives for consumers to care about cybersecurity.
According to Larry Clinton, President of the Internet Security Alliance and a member of the third panel, “All the incentives are on the side of the attacker. It’s cheap; your chances of getting caught are negligible. If you think about it, you’d wonder why you’re not in this business.”
Clinton sketched out the issue using the example of credit card identity theft. “Let’s assume someone compromises my credit card. The places he buys this stuff from are fine,” Clinton said. “I’m fine. The banks that didn’t do anything get all the costs. The costs are misaligned with respect to the economics of cybersecurity.”
Michael Barrett of Paypal shifted focus on the problem of market failure by pointing out the disproportionality between criminal responses to cybercrime and criminal responses to real-life crime.
“If I steal an iPad in real life, I will be stopped by some burly and rather unfriendly employee at the door,” Barrett said. “If I steal the equivalent of ten iPads on the net, no one gives a damn. In fact, ten isn’t even interesting. A hundred, maybe.”
Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, put the problem most succinctly in the fourth panel. “The people who cause a lot of the problems do not suffer the consequences,” Cerf said.
While market failure was a persistent theme in the conference, government failure was also a constant warning voiced by panelists. “For any of the policy influencers in the room, as you’re working through these things, I’d almost implore you to stay on the side of simplicity,” said Mark Mattis of Costco Wholesale during the third panel discussion. “It’s already a complex network out there that we have to maneuver.”
Meanwhile, in the first panel, Kristin Lovejoy, Vice President of Security Strategy at IBM, warned that the search for perfect solutions was futile from a business perspective. “There is no such thing as 100 percent security,” Lovejoy said. “There is no such thing as return without risk.”
Both of these problems – the increasing incentives for cyber-attacks, and the challenges facing a public-private partnership surrounding the issue – were acknowledged by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke in the opening speech of the convention.
“The importance of cybersecurity can be summed up in just one word: confidence,” Locke said, identifying three threats to consumer confidence that existing research predicted. “First, malicious access is emanating from the developing countries; second, thieves are seeking customer information; third, attacks that consumers usually fall prey to are evolving.”
However, Locke admitted that combating these various threats to cybersecurity was not necessarily a straightforward process. “For businesses, a more tailored approach to cybersecurity might be needed,” Locke said.