Cyber chief: Gov't needs to work better with companies

Hathaway says the U.S. government needs to improve its dialogue with the private sector

The U.S. government has significant work to do before it can better cooperate with the private sector and other governments to better protect cybersecurity, a government cybersecurity expert said.

The U.S. government needs to build trust with private companies so that they will share information about security risks, said Melissa Hathaway, the U.S. National Security Council's cybersecurity chief and author of a recently completed 60-day review of the nation's cybersecurity readiness.

U.S. businesses have a perception that if they share information with the government, it might not stay confidential, said Hathaway, speaking Friday at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C., think tank.

"We need improved dialogue in the public-private partnership," Hathaway said. "We need to start to build toward trust ... in this area where I think there's not enough trust."

In addition, the U.S. government engages other countries on cybersecurity policy issues in 20 venues, with different agencies engaging in different venues, she said. The U.S. government needs to bring a more united voice to its international work on cybersecurity, she said.

"The federal government can't do [cybersecurity] by itself -- it has to be done with the private sector," Hathaway said. "But we also can't do it in isolation, it's truly an international problem."

Hathaway, a holdover from former U.S. President George Bush's administration, praised President Barack Obama for raising awareness about cybersecurity. Obama, during the May 29 release of Hathaway's 60-day review, gave a nearly 15-minute speech on cybersecurity, the first time the leader of a major nation has talked in public about cybersecurity for more than a sentence or two, she said.

When asked what's new about the Obama cybersecurity plan, Hathaway tells people, "We have presidential leadership."

"The president believes in this," she added. "He grew up with the technology, and he used it in his campaign."

In addition to expanding partnerships with private companies and with other nations, the U.S. government has a role in educating residents about being responsible cyber citizens, Hathaway said. A top priority for the Obama administration in the coming months will be to kick off a public education campaign, she said.

"We're still digital infants," she said.

The U.S. government will also look at new programs to train cybersecurity experts in schools and colleges, and it will focus on cybersecurity research programs, she said.

Improved cybersecurity policies are desperately needed, Hathaway said. Cyber-based fraud attacks on the U.S. financial sector have more than doubled in the past four months, she said. Asked to provide details, Hathaway said she couldn't give much information, but vulnerabilties at one institution have affected several others.

The Internet is lightly regulated, and that means there are risks online, she said. Its designers also didn't envision a worldwide ubiquitous network, as the Internet was originally created as a backup if other communications networks went down, she noted.

"The Internet was not designed to be the backbone of the global economy," Hathaway said. "It wasn't really meant to be secure, resilient and impenetrable."

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