How Cyber Security Could Be a Winning Issue for Obama

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Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama works on a statement to the press after a phone call with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Oval Office, Jan. 28, 2011. Vice President Joe Biden, center right, and members of the national security team work with the President.

A blackout in Manhattan. A major dam failure. Mayhem at a chemical plant. Those are all potential, and entirely plausible, consequences of a cyber attack, according to a range of current and former national security officials, including the top American commander in charge of cyber security. But after months of inconclusive debate, Congress skipped town last week without passing a cyber security law. And neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama had anything to say about it.

It’s curious that cyber security would be absent from the presidential campaign. The national security stakes are obvious. It’s a technical issue, perhaps, but any American who’s had a computer virus can understand it. And as a political proposition, it offers Barack Obama a fine opportunity to attack Republicans from their right.

(VIDEO: Command Post: Who Are the World’s Most Dangerous Cyberterrorists?)

Some quick background: Nearly everyone agrees that corporate America’s cyber defenses are vulnerable to attacks by hostile governments and rogue hackers. General Keith Alexander, who heads the Pentagon’s cyber command — yes, there is now a general in charge of cyber war — recently said that cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure were up seventeen times between 2009 and 2011, and warned that an attack inflicting major damage is inevitable. With the support of the White House, Alexander and other nonpartisan security officials, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, have urged Congress to impose new regulations on businesses that would require them to shore up their cyber security and more closely coordinate with the feds.

But the business lobby resisted, and Republicans followed suit. New regulations mean new costs, and new powers for the federal government. House Republicans passed a cyber security bill earlier this year, but its scope was limited and the White House deemed it too weak. An alternate version was introduced in the Senate by those notorious left-wingers Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman. The White House backed the measure, but Republicans blocked it–in part by larding it with amendments on such related issues as abortion and Obamacare.

Lieberman’s frustration is a good barometer of the situation–particularly given that it’s been directed at his good friend, John McCain. Lieberman and McCain have long been simpatico on a range of post-9/11 security issues, and usually in conflict with Democrats. But cyber security has divided them: Lieberman wants tough federal action, but McCain is siding with business. That led to a tense public exchange earlier this year, and tempers flared again last week, when Lieberman accused McCain of carrying water for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which adamantly opposes new regulations. The Chamber even opposed a watered-down version of Lieberman’s original bill that replaced mandatory regulations on business with incentives to take voluntary action.

(MORE: On Cyber Warfare, the American Public Is Constantly Being Played by the Pentagon)

At a minimum, this affords Obama a chance to bash a “do-nothing Congress” for taking a vacation when top officials are warning about severe security threat. But if he wants to put some real topspin on the ball, he can make a slightly tougher point. Obama could bash Republicans for putting big business ahead of national security. Sure, that would be “playing politics” with security–but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that when security really does depend on political outcomes. It would certainly be no worse than George W. Bush’s 2002 attacks on Democrats for opposing the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, thanks to labor’s objections about anti-union measures. “The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people,” Bush famously declared back then.

Democrats were outraged, and Obama might abhor making the same kind of attack. He may also think people just aren’t scared enough about cyber terrorism for it to be worth making a fuss about. But Joe Lieberman has already set the template for him: “They’re trying to make this into a business versus government regulation issue, which it’s not,” Lieberman told Politico last week. “It’s a question of the safety and security of the American people.” It’s not often that Obama has a chance to invoke Joe Lieberman in defense of his national security policies; it will be interesting to see whether Obama takes advantage of this golden opportunity.

Update: A White House aide writes to protest the notion that the president has said little about the cyber bill. Obama did pen a Wall Street Journal op-ed on the subject last month, in which he argues “[i]t’s time to strengthen our defenses against this growing danger.” Other senior administration officials have weighed in as well, including counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan and, more recently, a pair of senior officials from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. It remains to be seen whether Obama chooses to take up this issue in a campaign context. Romney and his campaign, as far as I can tell, have been silent.

(PHOTOS: The Obama Presidency in Pictures)

23 comments
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Richard Giles
Richard Giles

“The money” is trying to buy the elections, trying to saturate people’s minds with their propaganda to control people’s thinking, trying to spend to own and to control the voters as “pawns” and to prevent them from clearly seeing reality.  It doesn’t matter what your politics are or what you think of the issues, if you are a member of the majority, “the money” is seeking to con you to serve only their own interests, to assure the continued feeding of their insatiable “more” (never enough) appetite at everyone else’s expense ... and you better be able to put your emotional loyalties aside to recognize it.

Saying “big government” is the problem by being “socialistic” and too “liberal” and that is the cause of our problems is actually just deceptive and an intentional distraction.  What really caused our problems is permissive, co-responsible politicians catering to “the few”, their strong supporters, who exploited their advantages and caused crises in savings and loans, banks, dot.coms, manufacturing, the mortgage, investment and financial industries, as well as corporate corruption (like Enron) and in literally causing industrywide failures, always with “the few” taking humongous gains and leaving the costs and lost jobs to the majority.  Controlling government spending and reducing the deficit are desirable endeavors but only by stopping the exploitation of “the few” will we ever solve and eliminate the repetition of the problems.

The costs versus savings, with estimates favoring both, for Obamacare are fully debatable but what isn’t is that something is desperately needed and that depending on those who refused to offer bipartisanship or compromise, those stubbornly controlled by their political ambitions and their belligerent catering to Special Interests, to ever responsibly implement anything actually solving the problems, is simply illogical and even ludicrous.  

Any realistic objective evaluation would indicate that taxes simply are not a problem for the majority and that most everyone would benefit from returning to a robust economy, even with a modest increase in taxes, that produces a larger net “take-home” and greatly reduces unemployment - and to instead continually concentrate on protecting and further reducing taxes for the very wealthy, simply doesn’t even address those issues (as Bush-Cheney so totally proved).

The con is in full swing for the benefit of and paid for by “the money”, insultingly always assuming the voters can be swayed, duped and controlled.  “Puppet” politicians are completely owned and controlled by “the money” and together they depend on the power, influence and wealth to achieve their self-interests.  Everything offered by Romney is just a continuation of this thinking and even offensive in just always favoring “the money” and in continually being left to “trust me”.  If the people don’t recognize the self-serving deception, reject the propaganda and firmly reject the “puppet” politicians owned and controlled by “the money”, then we likely will be returned to “more of the same”, Bush-Cheney style, with government once again focused on serving only “the money”, while the majority continues to pay the costs and receive only the subterfuge.

SmilingSmartBlonde
SmilingSmartBlonde

"putting big business ahead of national security"....

Obstructionists should be aware that there are consequences when they rubber stamp "NO" on everything.

john
john

just as

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LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

What we do not get from someone like Crowley are the reasons for the objections to this bill.

"Section 701 gives new rights to ISPs and other companies that are overly broad, Franken said in a Senate floor speech last week.  "So broad that if a company uses that power negligently to snoop in on your email or damage your computer-they will be immune from any lawsuit,” Franken said.

Rarely do I agree with Franken on anything, but he is right on with this statement.

"Wyden filed three privacy amendments. The first one seeks to prevent warrantless tracking of people using GPS data and explicitly requires the government obtain a probable cause warrant to obtain any geolocation data collected by individuals' cell phones and other devices. The second prohibit the government from accessing consumer's private data stored by a company that has government contracts. The third requires Congressional approval before the president could sign any binding international agreements on cybersecurity.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also filed several data breach amendments, to create a nationwide breach notification standard and to make it a crime for companies to hide data breaches from customers. One would require the government to obtain a warrant based on probably cause every time a law enforcement agency wanted access to private communications.

But, who speaks out in favor of the Bill?  You got it, one of the biggest anti-Virus companies on the planet.

“The economic security of our nation hinges on this bill passing,” Tom Kellermann, Vice President of Cyber Security at Trend Micro told SecurityWeek. “Hopefully both parties can work together to ensure the sustainability of e-commerce and e-government.”

Do you work for Trend Micro, Crowley?  Is that why your passion is for more flexibility for anti-virus companies to have more control so they can infect computers to sell more anti-virus programs?  

http://www.securityweek.com/gu...

kumaran
kumaran

my neighbor's half-sister makes $76/hour on the computer. She has been fired from work for 7 months but last month her paycheck was $13932 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site 

http://www.lazycash49.com

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

*yawns* ho hum, businesses need to be more secure.  Blah, blah, blah.

I think there's a lot of reason to increase regulations on utilities companies and transportation controls (airplanes, traffic lights, subway tunnels, etc) for their cyber security.  A cyber attack that hits a dam and overrides its floodgate controls - insanely remote but plausible - makes a lot of sense.

You could even make a case for major server-hosting companies - saying that they provide critical infrastructure that would have a detrimental effect to the world if they're compromised and thus need to be sure they are not vulnerable to attack.  And obviously, banks and transportation control systems.

Outside of that, the only thing at risk really is my credit card number, and I don't care how stringent you make those regulations, they're going to get my credit card number - and I'm not worried about China being the one who has it (Russian mafia, that's another story).

Why?  Because DRM never worked.  Worse, DRM made companies cocky which lead to PSN getting hacked several times in a couple of weeks - they built their entire security around the idea that their DRM would never be cracked.  Well guess what, it got cracked (to their credit, it took 3 years, but it got cracked).  Now, we're going to take all that time, energy, and absurd expense and apply it the expanded world?  Yeah, it's not going to work.

And speaking of security issues, ask the NSA why they cut MD5 to a max 56 bit encryption key and prosecuted the guy who invented PGP when he released his encryption schema to the Internet.  Oh, that's right, because they wanted an encryption schema that was standard that they could crack at any time but your average person couldn't.

BSF1
BSF1

Why should a bill concerning cyber security have amendments concerning abortion and health care tacked onto it?  When did this practice get started, and why has it not been stopped?  That is the real problem in Washington. When each bill stands alone and is debated and voted upon for its own merits, then, and only then, will we have decent government.  Right now every bill is an opportunity to play political football.

callmebc
callmebc

Republicans have basically taken themselves out of the game as far as getting anything serious done. In the case of cybersecurity, the proposed bills have ranged from the insanely dopey (SOPA/CISPA) to just basically flawed, as was the case with this last bill. It's safe to say that even if somehow a really well-thought out and written cybersecurity bill got proposed, Republicans would still try to block it because, well, passing it would mean getting something done. And you can't have that with this current crop of worthless, GOP ne'er-do-wells.

Peter Mosca
Peter Mosca

does anyone even read Time anymore?  if so, why?  this article isn't news, it's a worship of the status quo, the false left-right paradigm we're forced to swallow.  every time i stumble across Time articles i'm disgusted, and reminded why i stick to the alternative media.  what a joke.

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

How's this for a solution to the cybersecurity 'crisis?.

Don't plug any mission critical hardware into the internet

There. How hard was that?

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Closer to the truth than you might want to admit, Paul.

But, given that viruses can be transferred via infected CD or thumb drive, even that might not protect.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

A college friend of mine made a deal with his High School Network Admin - basically, he had free reign to hack any element of the school network he wanted so long as he told the administrator how to fix it.  By the time he was in Grade 12, you were allowed to use notepad, you were allowed to use the calculator, an that was about it.

The entire discussion of cyber security drives me nuts.  After all, we can put 24hr patrolling armed guards, a full suite of closed circuit cameras, electronic locks on every door, bars on every window, and you still wouldn't have a facility that's as secure as the guys warning about cyber security want us to have.  There's no such thing as a 100% secure facility - there's no such thing as a 100% secure system.

It's why I hate every round of cyber security discussions.

3xfire3
3xfire3

"How Cyber Security Could Be a Winning Issue for Obama"

There is no winning issue for Obama. The most incompetent, inexperienced and inept president in modern history will lose in November. No issue will save him.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/#ixz...

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"The most incompetent, inexperienced and inept president in modern history..."

Didn't you vote for George Bush? Twice?!

dawn orthen
dawn orthen

 soooo what about romney?

hes incompetent. something which has been proven with his work record

romneys work record doesnt consists of actual work at all. he sat at a desk and threw darts at a board with pictures of businesses.

romney is inexperianced, as evidenced by his trip abroad and pandering to isreal TO GET VOTES.

and romney is inept. he is not a mentally sound human being, the boy has no empathy.  he cant imagine what a day in the shoes of jack jo billybob johanson would be like. romney is the patriarch  of his clan. he MUST control his clan.

can you imagine giving a man with a patriarchal mindset an entire country? that would be tantamount to turning the country into a kingdom. romneyland or some nonsense.

fhmadvocat
fhmadvocat

3xfire3,

Modern history did not start on January 20, 2009.

callmebc
callmebc

Go Zip-lining without the  zip line much?

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

Don't all the cybersecurity bills that have been considered thus far have privacy concerns associated with them? And wouldn't that have more than a little bearing on who's inclined to support them? And wouldn't you think that a post that purports to be about the bills make mention of the fact?

I might be mistaken but it seems to me that Crowley is discarding a TON of information in order to frame this as a two sided fight.

Are the EFF and the COC on the same side?

Leopold Bloom
Leopold Bloom

Privacy is a major concern with all cyber security legislation, but the Lieberman-Collins Bill actually had quite robust protections. The Bill is by no means perfect, but it was better than anything else suggested. Take a look:

https://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs... 

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

As is often the case, the comment section is WAY more informative that the post.

outsider2011
outsider2011

Yes, you're right that there were privacy issues in the past.

Every story has to be two sided, don't you know.

Otherwise the reporters might be called partisan.

And we can't have that.