Expert: Cybersecurity incentives, not mandates, needed

Recent proposals may go too far in an attempt to protect the Internet, witnesses say

The U.S. Congress should look to provide incentives for private businesses to adopt stronger cybersecurity practices instead of creating new mandates, one information security expert told a congressional subcommittee Friday.

Eighty percent to 90 percent of cybersecurity problems can be fixed if businesses follow established best practices, and the government can help by offering incentives such as small-business loans, insurance and awards programs, said Larry Clinton, president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance, a security advocacy group.

In recent weeks some lawmakers and cybersecurity experts have called for new cybersecurity regulations, but regulations would be static in a quickly changing field and could put U.S. industry at a competitive disadvantage, Clinton said. In addition, U.S. regulations would reach only to the nation's borders, he added.

"This is an international problem," Clinton said during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. "We need a better system - a 21st-century system."

Under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, the government took a largely hands-off approach and waited for private market incentives that never materialized, Clinton said. Instead, government must work with private industry to provide incentives for cybersecurity, including liability protections and procurement awards, he said.

"What we're trying to do here is change the economics of cybersecurity by constructing a market that makes private organizations want to continually invest in cybersecurity in their own economic self-interest," Clinton said. "Only then can we create the sort of sustainable and evolving system of cybersecurity we need."

Clinton and Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, didn't mention it by name, but both seemed to take aim at cybersecurity legislation introduced April 1 by Senators Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

The Cybersecurity Act would, among other things, establish enforceable cybersecurity standards for private businesses and would allow the U.S. president to declare a cybersecurity emergency and shut down both public and some private networks that are compromised.

The U.S. is facing major consequences for its lack of focus on cybersecurity, Rockefeller said during a hearing in March.

"I regard [cybersecurity] as a profoundly and deeply troubling problem to which we are not paying much attention," he said then. "The problem is America is unacceptably exposed to massive cybercrime."

But allowing the government to shut down private networks, and potentially monitor traffic on private networks, is giving it too much power, Nojeim said. Such power would raise questions about free speech in the U.S., he said.

"Measures that might be appropriate for securing the control systems of a pipeline might not be right for securing the Internet," Nojeim added. "[The government] should not be in the business of monitoring private networks itself, nor should the government be in the business of shutting down Internet traffic to compromised ... information systems in the private sector."

If a president could shut down private systems, he could use that power for coercion, Nojeim said.

"To our knowledge, no circumstance has yet arisen that would justify a presidential order to cut off Internet traffic to a private critical infrastructure system," he said.

One role for government would be to continue to encourage the development of DNS Security Extensions, or DNSSec, a package of security fixes for the Internet Domain Name System, said Dan Kaminsky, director of penetration testing at cybersecurity vendor IOActive.

DNSSec would allow organizations to better trust Internet traffic coming from the outside, he said. "It will take some work; it will take a lot of work," Kaminsky added.

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