Cyber Security: The Achilles Heel Of U.S. Might?

Everybody knows by now that cyber security is something of an annoyance, if not a big deal.

Who hasn't wondered whether their personal information is among files that data caches that leak out all too regularly these days from corporate and government computers because of security breaches?

Almost all of us have heard about the hackers, intelligence communities, transnational terrorists and corporate spies who have made cracking into computers and networks their life's work.

What most of us fail to appreciate is how big a deal all this really is. That's one of the subtexts of a new report from congressional researchers that came Government Inc.'s way.

Going by the dry title "Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative: Legal Authorities and Policy Considerations," the report underscores in a compelling way the fact that the nation's cyber vulnerabilities continue to grow, and fast.

"Both the high-profile attacks and more routine infiltrations have shed light on the vulnerability of critical information infrastructures. For example, the Defense Science Board noted that the U.S. military's information infrastructure is the "Achilles' heel of our otherwise overwhelming military might."

The report, by the Congressional Research Service, comes one month after President Obama called for a 60 day cybersecurity review as part of the development of a strategy to implement a plan -- the CNCI -- launched a year ago by the Bush Administration. (For the record, there has been little public evidence of progress so far in CNCI, according to the report.) It examines a variety of policy and legal questions about how approach this mounting problem.

We'll spare you the details, which are spelled out well in the report. Suffice it to say that the government will be betting on the private sector, including government contractors, to come up with (and implement) many of the solutions.

"Such systems have been successfully infiltrated in recent years by a range of attackers, some of whom are suspected to have been working in coordination with foreign military organizations or (foreign) state intelligence services. Thus, like the changing nature of U.S. enemies in the post-9/11 environment, the nature of military and economic vulnerabilities has changed: intelligence-gathering battles in cyberspace now also play a crucial role in national security."

To be sure, this is war. Now we have to find out who we're fighting, and how.

On top of everything else, of course, we have this complexity to deal with:

"Rod Beckström, the Department of Homeland Security's controversial cyber-security chief, has suddenly resigned amid allegations of power grabs and bureaucratic infighting.

"Beckström -- a management theorist, entrepreneur and author -- was named last year to head up the new National Cybersecurity Center, or NCSC. To some, it seemed an odd choice since Beckström isn't an expert in security. But the hope was that he could use his management skills to help coordinate the nation's often-dysfunctional network defenses."

Here's what UPI's Shaun Waterman had to say:

"The official in charge of coordinating the U.S. government's cybersecurity operations has quit, saying the expanding control of the National Security Agency over the nation's computer security efforts poses 'threats to our democratic processes.'


By Robert O'Harrow |  March 13, 2009; 9:14 AM ET computer security
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