Nation's cybersecurity suffers from a lack of information sharing

Despite progress, public and private sectors still don't trust each other, panelists say

SAN FRANCISCO — The lack of trust between the public and private sectors continues to inhibit the sharing of information needed for the nation to effectively defend against rapidly evolving cyberthreats, a panel of industry experts and former government officials said Tuesday.

“We need to have more transparency in the public-private partnership,” said Melissa Hathaway, former White House advisor who conducted last year’s comprehensive review of government cybersecurity. “The trust does not exist between the two parties.”

Hathaway, who now runs her own cybersecurity consulting firm, said during a panel discussion at the RSA Security Conference that a “safe space” overseen by a trusted third party is needed to facilitate sharing.

William Crowell, former National Security Agency deputy director, said that it should be possible to share information without identifying the source, to make the parties feel more secure about providing it. “We need to be able to abstract the information we are are going to share,” he said. “That’s our best approach in the long run.”

The lack of sharing creates a lack of  wide visibility into threats, the panelists agreed. While cybercriminals and other evil-doers are collaborative and quick to take advantage of vulnerabilities, cyberdefense is hobbled by a fragmented response that includes too little cooperation.

“In order to respond to the threats we have to change the pace of the game on our side,” Crowell said. “The pace of our responses are not operating in Internet time.”

In most cases, companies that openly share information about attacks on their systems face the possibility of monetary loss. The private sector has little motivation to contribute to cybersecurity beyond its own immediate interests, said Greg Oslan, chief executive officer of Narus.

“We have to look at it as an end-to-end solution,” he said. He proposed a model based on that of the airline industry, which has a global framework of laws and regulations ensuring the safety and security of the industry, brokered by governments, adopted by industry and accepted by the public.

Cisco Chief Security Officer John Stewart faulted his own industry for the poor state of cybersecurity.

“We have succeeded in making the security industry so complex that the people who need it the most -- the public -- cannot use it,” Stewart said.

Exploiting vulnerabilities is simple, he said, but simplifying security is difficult, and industry has not yet succeeded in doing this.

There was general agreement among the panelists that the president’s emphasis on cybersecurity as a national security issue is a first step toward improving the situation.“But that’s not enough,” Crowell said. It has to be followed up with a structure within the White House that can continually drive execution of policies at the technical, legal and international relations levels.

Even then the problems never will be completely solved, he said. “Have we ever solved any criminal problem? No. We’re never going to solve the cyber problem, either. But we can limit it.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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