ISPs: No new cybersecurity regulations needed

Congress could remove legal barriers for private companies to share threat information with each other, network operators say

The U.S. Congress should resist any temptations to pass new cybersecurity rules affecting broadband and mobile service providers, a group of Internet service providers told lawmakers Wednesday.

Instead, Congress could remove some legal barriers for ISPs to share cyberthreat information with each other and for the government to share information with private companies, officials with five broadband and mobile network operators said during a hearing before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee.

ISPs have "strong incentives" to secure their networks and invest heavily in cybersecurity because of competition, said Jason Livingood, vice president of Internet systems engineering at Comcast. "Attempting to impose uniform cybersecurity solutions could actually be counterproductive, by enabling an attacker that cracks a single solution to compromise multiple systems, and by slowing down or constraining our ability to rapidly develop innovative cybersecurity solutions," he said.

Edward Amoroso, chief security officer at AT&T Services, agreed that new regulations aren't needed, but he also suggested that many private companies are being "out innovated" by cyberattackers. Congress should look for ways to provide incentives to companies and universities to develop innovative cybersecurity protections, he said.

Many recent pieces of malware are "so good and so well-crafted that we marvel at how far the adversary has come," he said.

The five witnesses at the hearing, also including representatives of Research In Motion, Century Link and MetroPCS Communications, all agreed that they don't need more cybersecurity regulations. The witnesses didn't point to existing legislation that would create more regulations, but some critics have said the Cybersecurity Act, introduced in the Senate in February, would create new regulations for network operators and owners of other critical infrastructure.

Regulation can't keep up with rapidly changing threats and the responses, the witnesses said. "When you write a law, we do paperwork," Amoroso said.

Delegate Donna Christensen, a Virgin Islands Democrat, asked what agencies should have a role in defining cybersecurity practices.

If network operators were not taking basic steps to protect their businesses, then someone in government should "shake us into action," Amoroso said.

"I don't think there's an agency right now that's in a good position, to solve a problem that we can't solve ourselves," he added. "The problem is, we don't know what it is you should be telling us we should be doing."

Amoroso and Livingood, representing the two largest ISPs in the U.S., seemed to disagree what steps their businesses should take to combat cyberthreats.

Livingood called on other ISPs and websites to implement DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC), a set of tools designed to authenticate the origin of DNS clients on the Internet. In January, Comcast was the first U.S. ISP to implement DNSSEC, in development since the late '90s.

But Amoroso said DNSSEC adds complexity to the jobs of network operators and can be defeated if DNSSEC servers are compromised. "The complexity can be very stifling," he said.

Livingood and other witnesses also called on Congress to provide legal protections to private companies that want to share cyberthreat information with each other. Amoroso agreed, saying private companies already share some information, but in some cases, private companies may want to keep some information to themselves.

AT&T may not want to share its proprietary efforts to protect the Apple iPhone with other mobile carriers offering the same device, he said. "I'd like my customers to say, 'hey, we're going to stay with AT&T because they're really investing in doing protection,'" he said. "It's not necessary for us to share, the market is going to force our competitors to catch up, or me to catch up with someone else."

Instead of private information sharing, Congress could look at ways that government agencies can more easily share classified and other thread information with companies, Amoroso said. "Whenever I get involved in something like that, there's more lawyers involved in the discussion than there are people in this room," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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