Cybersecurity

'History may be repeating itself' in cyberspace

The original front cover of the 9/11 Commission Report released by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Ten years after issuing a damning report on the intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission has warned of parallel U.S. vulnerabilities in cybersecurity.

"One lesson of the 9/11 story is that, as a nation, Americans did not awaken to the gravity of the terrorist threat until it was too late. History may be repeating itself in the cyber realm," said the July 22 report.

The commission, headed by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican, and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, reconvened to reflect on how U.S. security interests have shifted over the last decade.

Cyber threats have since multiplied with advances in IT, and a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s cyber-readiness was beyond the scope of the report. The document instead touched on the growing nexus between terrorism and cybersecurity, the American public's supposed lack of awareness of cyber threats, and the need for "comprehensive" legislation from Congress – a point on which the Obama administration has demurred. A senior White House official told FCW recently that addressing issues like data breaches and information sharing in separate legislation is more effective than Congress trying to pass a comprehensive bill.

The report called on Congress to pass legislation that encourages private firms and federal officials to share cyber-threat information while protecting those firms from liability for doing so. The Senate Intelligence Committee on July 8 approved a bill that would do just that.

Executive-branch agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI would be wise to "complement, rather than replicate" the National Security Agency's technical capabilities in cyberspace, the report advised.

The 9/11 Commission's assessment also held up alleged Chinese economic espionage as an opportunity to boost slack public awareness or appreciation of cyber threats. If the Obama administration and Congress harp on job losses and other economic ills caused by intellectual property theft, the report said, Americans "will support the measures needed to counter the cyber threat."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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