WASHINGTON, August 3, 2010 – Federal agencies have not provided top-level leadership for the United States on cybersecurity issues, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (pdf).
While cybersecurity efforts have been sustained at a high level within the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice and State, top-level leadership is lacking, says the report. Additionally, the United States possesses no “clear vision” of how cybersecurity impacts national goals. Rather, the nation has engaged in an ad hoc selection of cybersecurity measures.
In assessing the United States’ cybersecurity infrastructure and a potential future for it, the report makes several recommendations for how the United States ought to prosecute a strategy to combat cyberattacks. It should:
- Provide “top-level leadership” on these issues;
- Develop a “coherent and comprehensive strategy” for dealing with these issues;
- Coordinate across all relevant federal entities;
- Ensure cyberspace-related technical standards and policies do not pose unnecessary barriers to U.S. trade;
- Participate in international cyber incident response;
- Recognize the “differing legal systems” by which these cybercrimes are prosecuted; and
- Define international norms for cyberspace.
The GAO finds fault with the federal government’s response on almost all of these fronts, though it pays special attention to the government’s failures on the first three recommendations. In regard to the first one, the GAO criticizes federal agencies for an overly technical view of the bureaucratic balance of power.
“Although the Department of State is charged with leading other federal agencies in establishing global networks to share threat information, department officials stated that only the president or an executive entity such as the [National Security Council] possesses the necessary authority to direct agencies such as DHS to participate,” wrote the report’s authors.
With respect to the second recommendation, on a coherent and comprehensive strategy, the report claims that, while the United States has drafted several documents outlining strategies for combating cybercrime, “none of the documents, taken individually or collectively, provide a comprehensive strategy.”
For example, while the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace states that the State Department will lead other federal agencies, the strategy does not articulate either specific supporting activities or time frames in which to accomplish this or other objectives.
The report notes that federal officials have claimed to be developing such a strategy pursuant to the president’s Cyberspace Policy Review. However, the authors write, “we have not seen any evidence of such activities and, thus, were unable to determine what progress, if any, has been made towards accomplishing this goal.”
Finally, with respect to the third goal, dealing with coordination of relevant federal entities, the report is unequivocally damning.
“Federal agencies have not demonstrated an ability to coordinate their activities and project clear policies on a consistent basis,” the report says. “Unless federal agencies institutionalize a coordination mechanism that engages all key federal entities, it is less likely that federal agencies will be aware of each other’s efforts, or that their efforts, taken together, will support U.S. national interests in a coherent or consistent fashion.”
In envisioning a potential future path, the report concludes, “The rapid integration of information and communication technologies into virtually every aspect of modern life and the increase in associated threats have outpaced efforts by the United States and the international community…Until these challenges are addressed, the United States will be at a disadvantage in promoting its national interests in the realm of cyberspace.”
Rep. Swalwell Says App Preference Bill Will Harm National Security
‘I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device.’
July 27, 2022 – Antitrust legislation that would restrict the preferential treatment of certain apps on platforms would harm national security by making more visible apps from hostile nations, claimed Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, at a Punchbowl News event Wednesday.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is currently under review by the Senate and, if passed, would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.
The legislation would ban Apple and Google from preferencing their own first-party apps on their app stores, which would make it easier for apps disseminated from hostile nations to be seen on the online stores, Swalwell said.
“[Russia and China] could flood the app store with apps that can vacuum up consumer data and send it back to China,” said Swalwell, adding that disinformation regarding American elections would spread. “Until these security concerns are addressed, we should really pump the breaks on this.”
Swalwell asked for a hearing conducted by Judiciary Committee of the House with the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security officials to lay out what the bill would mean for national security.
“I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device, whether you’re an individual or small business,” said Swalwell.
Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about China’s access to American data through popular video-sharing apps, such as TikTok. Last month, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove the app on the grounds that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, is “beholden” to the Communist government in China and required to comply with “surveillance demands.”
The comments follow debate surrounding the bill, which was introduced to the Senate on May 2 by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on how it would affect small businesses and American competitiveness globally.
Government Should Incentivize Information Sharing for Ransomware Attacks, Experts Say
‘Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent.’
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2022 – The federal government should incentivize the reporting of cyberattacks through safe harbor and shield laws, said experts at an Atlantic Council event Tuesday, as a recent law requiring companies in critical infrastructure sectors to report such attacks to the federal government is limited and currently unclear on who exactly it impacts.
The Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act passed in March does not cover private companies who do not operate in the critical infrastructure sectors and does not include safe harbor and shield laws that would encourage private companies to engage in the process.
Oftentimes, companies will avoid interacting with law enforcement to avoid the stigma associated with being a victim of a cyberattack and out of fear of being held liable by regulators and investors, said Trent Teyema, senior fellow at technology policy university collaborative GeoTech Center.
Teyema called for a safe harbor framework, a law that provides protection against legal liability when other conditions are met. Such a provision would decrease the risk of companies being held liable for cyberattacks from regulators, investors, and the public.
He also called for shield laws that would protect against revealing certain information to the government as a requirement for receiving law enforcement assistance.
The government needs to make it easy for the private sector to share information with law enforcement, said Teyema.
“Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent,” read a report written by Teyema and David Bray, fellow at GeoTech Center. Information sharing across sectors allows cybersecurity experts in both sectors to learn about new vulnerabilities in software and new attack vectors. It strengthens collective resiliency and can influence the processes used to anticipate and respond to threats, continued the report.
Ransomware on the rise
Ransomware attacks in which bad actors demand money to release encrypted data are increasing dramatically, reported the White House last year. Ransomware incidents often disrupt critical services, such as banks, hospitals and schools that require constant access to data. In 2021, there was approximately $20 billion in damages from ransomware attacks in the United States, with $11 billion in 2020 and $5 billion the year before, said Bray.
This follows on the heels of the 2021 Colonial Pipeline hack that targeted the billing system and led to the shutdown of the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. The Russian-speaking cybercrime group responsible, DarkSide, received $4.4 million in ransom from Colonial, part of which was later recovered by the United States law enforcement.
Research firm Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be a ransomware attack every two seconds by the year 2031 with global costs exceeding $265 billion.
U.S. Must Go on Offensive to Address Cybersecurity Issues
A former Commerce Department official said the nation is ‘so far behind in addressing these threats.’
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 – The United States needs to adopt a more offensive cybersecurity posture to survive in an evolving digital world by enacting sanctions against malicious states, developing artificial intelligence capabilities to identify possible cyberthreats, and engaging in diplomacy to deter cyberattacks before they initiate, said experts at an Internet Governance Forum event on Thursday.
“The U.S. absolutely needs to bolster its response to malicious cyberactivity,” said Nazak Nikakhtar, a former assistant secretary for industry and analysis in the Commerce Department and current partner at law firm Wiley. “The United States is so far behind in addressing these threats.”
The United States is taking a defensive posture on cybersecurity by responding to threats as they come, said Nikakhtar. No one is talking about bettering our offensive capabilities in deterrence for malicious cyberattacks, she said.
Nikakhtar suggested enacting sanctions and penalties for violating privacy restrictions against hostile nation-states to deter cyber-attacks. She also suggested collaborating with allies to aggregate data to develop artificial intelligence that would identify possible cyberthreats. She called for think tanks and strategists around the world to come up with an offensive international strategy.
“I don’t think enough Americans are concerned about who has access to their data,” said Nikakhtar. “The aggregation of data by our adversaries, like China… is terrifying.” Our adversaries are finding out how they can weaponize our data and it should cause us to consider the risks and what we need to do to protect our data, she said. This follows Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine and an increase in cyberattack threats to the United States.
For example, experts say popular video-sharing application TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is required by Chinese law to comply with the Communist government’s surveillance demands. Nikakhtar — who was nominated for her Commerce role by former President Donald Trump, who himself wanted to ban TikTok over national security concerns — argued that there is “no alternative” to banning TikTok.
But John Morris of the Internet Society expressed concern that banning specific apps would encourage hostile nations to respond in kind by banning American apps, eliminating free exchange of information.
Meanwhile Eric Burger, research director at Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, suggested that the United States levy its diplomatic power by gaining political support from other countries to deter hostile nation-states from initiating cyberattacks. It is powerful to get a whole chunk of the world on our side regarding cyber war are, he said.
Google executives have previously called for the Department of Defense to continue making investments in AI to protect the cyberspace. “One of AI’s critical uses is finding anomalies in activity that would indicate a new threat vector,” said Andrew Moore, vice president and director of Google Cloud in a Senate subcommittee meeting on cybersecurity in May.
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