Cybersecurity

Industry says it's fed up with feds' no hack-back rules

sphere of binary data

Some companies are frustrated that the government is not hitting back at foreign cyber adversaries and prohibiting the companies themselves from retaliating, according to speakers at a Nov. 5 Chertoff Group event.

To them, cyberspace looks like Dodge City without a U.S. marshal in sight.Citing the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars of intellectual property to Chinese hackers, Raytheon Director of Programs Security Randall Fort asked, "Why shouldn't [American firms] be able to do something about that?"

"I think once you go outside your networks, you're setting a dangerous precedent," said George Duchak, director of the Defense Department's Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. "It becomes like the Wild West where everybody's shooting, and there would be a lot of collateral damage."

But the threat of private cyber war looms as firms seethe under government inaction and lawmakers are being presented with punitive hacking options.

Renee Tarun, senior cyber strategist on the National Security Agency's Cyber Task Force, warned companies that it can be difficult to determine the source of a hack.

Fort countered by saying, "In my company, I actually have the screenshots of the Chinese [who] are stealing my information. So the attribution issue isn't necessarily a problem for everybody."

Marty Roesch, vice president and chief architect in Cisco's Security Business Group, cited some of the downsides to companies taking matters into their own hands.

"Where do you stop?" he asked, wondering whether the small number of firms capable of carrying out retributive hacks would go so far as to hire hitmen when they realized foreign hackers could just hop from Internet cafe to Internet cafe.

"It feels really good to do something, but unless we have some kind of framework around what that something can be...what's to really stop it from turning into the Wild West or having levels of escalation that nobody's prepared for?" Roesch asked. "You hack back, take them off the Internet, they go down the road and decide they're going to take out the entire power grid that's powering the data center that is doing the hack back."

Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that the modest cyber agreement between China and the U.S. is a good step toward avoiding catastrophic escalation.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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