A recent denial-of-service attack on government and private sector computer systems in Estonia has spurred renewed interest in cybersecurity. The Bush Administration is preparing to unveil a major "Cyber Initiative" designed to thwart malicious acts by states or transnational threats. Congress is pressing for details and consultation on the plan, and the House Homeland Security Committee recently announced the creation of a commission to study the government's proposals. As these efforts get underway, Congress and the Administration need to ensure that their initiatives meet all of the nation's priorities: enhancing security, promoting economic growth, and preserving the liberty and privacy of American citizens and respecting those of our friends and allies.
The initiatives that will likely best serve the United States and its international partners in the cyber conflicts of the 21st century are those derived from private sector experience, emerging military and intelligence capabilities for conducting information warfare, and law enforcement measures for combating cyber crime. The U.S. needs a national framework that builds on these capabilities, encouraging them to collaborate and reinforce one another. These initiatives should include:
- Adopting best practices. Both government
agencies, such as the National Institute for Standards and
Technology, and the private sector continue to develop best
practices and lessons learned. These can be effective tools.
Ensuring that these are refreshed and applied should be
government's first priority. Only programs that establish clear
tasks, conditions, and standards and ensure that they are
rigorously applied will keep up with determined and willful efforts
to overcome security efforts.
- Employing risk-based approaches. All
information programs must include assessments of criticality,
threat, and vulnerability as well as measures to efficiently and
effectively reduce risks.
- Fostering teamwork. Cybersecurity is a
national responsibility requiring international cooperation. The
United States must maintain effective bilateral and multinational
partnerships to combat cyber threats. These efforts should include
rigorous measures to prevent the export of sensitive technologies
to malicious actors, as well as persistent vigilance to ensure that
adversarial states and transnational terrorist and criminal groups
do not penetrate U.S. companies that provide essential capabilities
and sensitive national security services.
- Exploiting emergent private sector
capabilities. These may come from many sources, such as
small companies and foreign countries. The U.S. government must
become a more agile consumer of cutting-edge commercial
- Focusing on professional development. Most
government information programs underperform because, due to
inattentive senior leadership, they lack clear requirements and
hold unrealistic projections of the resources required to implement
those requirements. Such problems can be addressed by maintaining a
corps of experienced, dedicated service professionals. National
security professionals must have familiarity with a number of
diverse security-related disciplines and practice in interagency
operations, working with different government agencies, the private
sector, and international partners. These skills and attributes
must include expertise in cyber operations as well as in developing
and managing new systems.
- Developing robust offensive capabilities to respond to cyber attacks and malicious acts by either state or non-state threats using the full range of military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic means.
Washington can do better in preparing to respond to current and future cyber threats. What is needed, however, is not massive reorganization, massive government bureaucracy, massive infusions of government cash, or massive intrusions into the marketplace and the lives of Americans. What is needed is long-term commitment and sound initiatives based on better and faster acquisition of commercial services; better and smarter management of military, intelligence, and information technology programs; and better and sustained professional development of federal, state, local, and private sector leaders.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.