It’s clear that the coming years will present major tests for security on the internet. We’ll also likely see further debate about privacy and First Amendment issues online, with personal data, intellectual property and child pornography topping the laundry list of concerns. But in the wake of the attack on Google in China, let’s start with a very basic consideration: protecting America’s strategic, governmental and economic interests in the digital realm.
If I’d been a smarter person, I’d have gotten into cybersecurity back in the 1990s. It’s a cash cow, for sure. Let’s face it, the national security industrial complex is the only guaranteed growth sector for the US, and the federal government will no doubt continue parceling out huge chunks of cash to private companies with the expertise to engage in avant-garde digital warfare. They don’t even have to be good at it. Just pull the dump truck up to the Fed at noon on Wednesday and get your multimillion dollar meal ticket.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in safeguarding our digital infrastructure. I just have doubts that the American education system can churn out trained specialists at the rate that select Middle Eastern countries, India or even China can. When it comes to internet technology, we’re on the road to third world status. Don’t believe me? Just look at deployment, speed and competition in the domestic broadband marketplace vs. globally.
But I digress. In terms of cybersecurity, it seems what you don’t want to do is advertise your methods. Yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration is planning on by revealing its strategy for protecting the nation’s public and private computer systems.
Today, Team Obama plans to declassify a major portion of the National Cybersecurity Initiative — a Dubya mandated “secret effort to harness the nation’s defensive and offensive strategies for protecting commercial and government networks.” Seems like exactly the kind of thing you want to share with, say, Iran!
Look, I applaud the administration for (selectively) following through with its campaign promises of transparency. But is this really the place to do it?
To be fair, the declassification will only include our techniques for protecting America’s networks, not the cloak-and-dagger offensive maneuvers. Don’t you feel safer? Amazingly, Obama’s point man here, Howard A. Schmidt, says that letting the rest of the world in on our digital state secrets is exactly the point: “The C.N.C.I. was shrouded in a lot of classification,” Schmidt says. “The president has said very specifically that we need to make sure the administration is transparent with not only the American public but with an international audience as well.”
Guess where they’ll be publishing this info? Why, WhiteHouse.gov, of course! I’m thrilled that the president’s home page has a cleaner GUI than Facebook, but there’s more to this whole online business than smart design.
Besides transparency, the move is meant to inspire greater private-public collaboration. “In order to be successful against today’s cybersecurity threats,” Schmidt says, “we must continue to seek out innovative new partnerships — not only within government, but also among industry, government and the American public.” What’s a little subcontracting between cronies? It worked out great in New Orleans and Iraq. And who hasn’t wanted to see cloud computing behemoth Google get cozy with the NSA?
Thing is, the government could do all of this perfectly well without tipping our defensive hand to an already insecure planet. When CIA wants to plant an asset in deep cover at an American company doing business overseas, they don’t put an ad on Craigslist. They go to the corporation and work out an arrangement so that “Fred Smith” can be gainfully employed at said corporation while securing the contents of a Saudi Arabian McDonalds’ dumpster and writing a report every third Tuesday. That’s just how this shit works.
I still think that Obama has plenty of opportunities to be an effective and strategically savvy president. I’m banking on year three.