Threat Research

Future of cyber security

By Derek Manky | June 04, 2009

On May 29th, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama held a conference at which he discussed a cyber security plan following an earlier 60 day review released in April. While there has been much debate and discussion on this initiative which is yet to take development with the announcement of a cyber "czar", I think one the more important aspects to recognize is that this is a step forward.

Is it a step forward because this is the one answer, the silver bullet launched from the U.S. to stop cyber terrorism and information warfare in its tracks? Certainly not - last I heard zombies were unaffected by such silver bullets. Rather, it is a government-led initiative that naturally will gain a high profile as it develops which in turn, will help bring cyber security to the table. And it's about time. The problems which this plan aims to address have been around for quite some time, and have been well known in the security field: critical infrastructure operating off legacy, vulnerable protocols now linked to public networks, software with more vulnerabilities than function. Yet, voices calling to fix these problems continue to echo in cyberspace unanswered. This is for various reasons including authority, confusion, underestimation and budget.

Think of Operation Cyber Storm (II). This exercise, headed up by the DHS, has been conducted several times and lessons from the outcomes of these tests should be well in motion. With that said, it is vital to take the first step forward and lead such a plan that takes security seriously, which is exactly what is unfolding today -- this is commendable. There has been much debate on whether or not the DHS or the NSA should hold authority (which has led to a turf war) over cyber security. This turf war was fueled off accusations that the NSA was controlling the NCSC/DHS through policies and politics that bypassed the mentality of true network security, on top of a lack of funding. This is why I believe that funding and authority, although crucial elements, should only be part of the puzzle. These elements have yet to be detailed when the cyber "czar" takes their throne, and will certainly be required for any plans to be put into action. However, many components need to gel together for this to work - including those from the private sector.

As I previously mentioned, we are already aware of the many security problems existing today in cyberspace. Solutions from security devices, consolidated network intelligence services and the "cloud", software patches, policies and education have been put in their place - but not nearly on the level that they should be. On top of funding and authority, I believe that collaboration will become the key item to drive forward: how the plan implements the aforementioned existing solutions and works with the private sector. Thus, it should be equally important that the newly appointed cyber coordinator has an open minded understanding and focus on this collaboration. This is a pragmatic approach that will help with defense, response, and education.

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