Government Lacks Clear Direction on Cyber

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In a recent article, The Washington Post reports that a year after publishing its cyber-security policy review, the White House continues to lack a coherent strategy for preventing cyber attacks. The Post’s criticisms are both valid and important.

The greatest gap at the moment is the absence of a legal framework to guide agencies like DHS, NSA, and the FBI. Although several bills are in the works, they differ greatly on their proposed solutions, and where they draw the line between government authority and personal privacy. The White House has yet to place support behind a particular bill and with an already packed legislative agenda there is little reason to expect a consensus before this fall’s elections.

This uncertainty places a heavy burden on our defense and intelligence agencies. As former CIA Director and retired Air Force General, Michael Hayden said,

“When we hit specific problems—technical or operational, offense or defense—we’re a bit adrift because we’re doing it in a policy context that right now is fairly vacant.”

Without assurances about their authority and role in the cyber-defense framework, federal agencies will find it difficult to accomplish their mission.

There has, however, been progress since last year—in fact, I blogged about some positive developments here. The President’s Cyber Coordinator asserted that the US is “absolutely” more secure than at this time last year. Federal agencies have also taken it upon themselves to enact new pro-active programs. But it will be impossible to form a cooperative, unified defense regime without direction from above.

It’s time for decision makers to lay out the rules of the game, so that our federal agencies can get to work.

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