Justice, FTC offer new encouragement for information sharing

A joint policy statement assures companies they can share cyberthreat information without violating antitrust laws.

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Under an updated cybersecurity information-sharing policy, commercial entities that share cyberthreat data will not raise eyebrows in the antirust divisions of the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, so long as the shared data does not stray into competitive information.

In a joint policy statement issued April 10, the two agencies reinforced a 14-year-old policy aimed at facilitating more cyberthreat coordination among companies. In 2000, Justice sent a letter to the Electric Power Research Institute saying it had no intention of blocking the organization's proposal to exchange certain cybersecurity information among its members, including real-time cyberthreat and attack information.

Officials at Justice and the FTC acknowledged that some companies are already sharing cyberthreat information, but others have voiced concerns about violating antitrust laws. "We all recognize the critical importance of protecting our nation's networks," said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer during an April 10 briefing. "And we also know that this can be done in legitimate and lawful ways. This is an antitrust no-brainer: Companies who engage in properly designed cyberthreat information sharing will not run afoul of the antitrust laws."

As long as the shared information does not contain data such as recent, current or future prices; cost data; output levels; or information that might abet price-fixing or other competitive coordination among competitors, companies can share it, Baer said.

"If there ever was any uncertainty out there about the kind of information that can be shared, this policy statement should make it abundantly clear that with the proper safeguards in place, cyberthreat information sharing can occur without antitrust risk," he said.

The policy statement notes that cyberthreat information is typically more technical in nature than competitively sensitive information. "For example, one of the most common methods of identifying malware (e.g., a virus, worm, etc.) is through signature detection," the policy states. "A threat signature is like a digital fingerprint; it is a unique string of bits or data that uniquely identifies a specific threat. Signature-based detection involves searching for known patterns of data."

The policy also notes that information such as knowing the IP address from which a denial-of-service attack originates or the particular port it targets could help others block similar illegitimate traffic.

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