The US government should overhaul its approach to cybersecurity, with sweeping new regulations on private businesses and a new, centralised cybersecurity office in the White House, according to a group of experts.
The White House office is needed because the US Department of Homeland Security is not equipped to protect the US government against cyber attacks, according to the report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency. Many members of the commission "felt that leaving any cyber function at DHS would doom that function to failure," according to the report.
In addition, the report calls for new government regulations focused on protecting US networks. Many of those regulations would focus on refining government efforts to protect its own cyber infrastructure, but regulations on private industry are needed as well, the report said.
The report rejected the market-driven approach to cybersecurity advanced by US President George Bush. "The strategy essentially abandoned cyber defense to ad hoc market forces," the report said. "In no other area of national security do we depend on private, voluntary efforts. We believe that cyberspace cannot be secured without regulation."
New regulations are needed for the IT, finance and energy industries, as well as for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, the report said. In addition, the US government needs to change its acquisition rules to focus more on cybersecurity, and the US needs to require identity authentication credentials in the IT, energy and finance industries, as well as in government services.
The government also should allow private residents to use government-issued cyber credentials for their online activities, the report recommended.
The report suggests the US government has several major steps it needs to take to address cybersecurity deficiencies. "Cybersecurity is among the most serious economic and national security challenges we will face in the 21st century," wrote James Lewis, director of the CSIS Technology and Public Policy Program.
"Our research and interviews for this report made it clear that we face a long-term challenge in cyberspace from foreign intelligence agencies and militaries, criminals, and others, and that this struggle will wreak serious damage on the economic health and national security of the US unless we respond vigorously."
DHS, which has been the lead agency focused on cybersecurity, can be strengthened, the report said. But "the nature of our opponents, the attacks we face in cyberspace, and the growing risk to national and economic security mean that comprehensive cybersecurity falls outside the scope of DHS's competencies," the report said.
"DHS is not the agency to lead in a conflict with foreign intelligence agencies or militaries or even well-organised international cyber criminals."
Cybersecurity is no longer a homeland security or critical infrastructure problem, the 96-page report added. "This is far too narrow a scope," the report said. "Cybersecurity is no longer (if it ever was) a domestic issue. It is an issue of international security in which the primary actors are the intelligence and military forces of other nations."
The report recommends that DHS retain responsibility for the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and related functions, but a new White House National Office of Cyberspace would coordinate and oversee cybersecurity efforts governmentwide. Right now, the US government has hundreds of people working on cybersecurity issues, and this "too often resembles a large fleet of well-meaning bumper cars," the report said.
A DHS spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the CSIS report.
Members of the commission said in September that they would recommend removing cybersecurity authority from DHS. "We are under attack, and we are taking damage," Lewis told a House of Representatives subcommittee then. "The U.S is disorganised and lacks a coherent national [cybersecurity] strategy."
The report also recommends that:
- The US government create a new national cybersecurity strategy that includes diplomacy, military action, changes in policy and the involvement of US intelligence and law enforcement officials.
- President-elect Barack Obama put new emphasis on the government working with the private sector, with clearly defined responsibilities and an emphasis on building trust with the private sector.
- The US Congress increase spending on cybersecurity research and create a scholarship program encouraging more US students to get cybersecurity degrees.
"We are in a long-term struggle with criminals, foreign intelligence agencies, militaries, and others with whom we are intimately and unavoidably connected through a global digital network," the report said. "This struggle does more real damage every day to the economic health and national security of the United States than any other threat."
CSIS, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank, launched the cybersecurity commission in August 2007 in an effort to make recommendations to the next US president. More than 40 cybersecurity experts, including employees of IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, EMC and AT&T, served on the commission.