Dem, GOP platforms expose divide over cyber defense

With the failure of Congress to pass legislation aimed at bolstering the nation’s cybersecurity, the Democratic platform asserts the president’s willingness to act on his own through executive order.

“President Obama has supported comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that would help business and government protect against risks of cyber attacks while also safeguarding the privacy rights of our citizens,” says the platform adopted Sept. 4 by the Democratic National Convention. “And, going forward, the president will continue to take executive action to strengthen and update our cyber defenses.”

The Republican platform, adopted last week, also recognizes the importance of securing cyberspace, calling for the United States to develop an offensive cyberattack capacity to deter would-be enemies.

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“We will pursue an effective cybersecurity strategy, supported by the necessary resources, that recognizes the importance of offensive capabilities,” against nations, terrorists and criminals, the platform says.

The two platforms reflect the partisan differences that have divided the 112th Congress and prevented the passage of meaningful cybersecurity legislation despite the efforts of leaders on both sides to move bills. Republicans see cybersecurity largely as a business issue and object to any regulations on industry establishing requirements for securing IT infrastructure and systems. They would place responsibility for overseeing civilian and private-sector cybersecurity in the military. The National Security Agency is often mentioned as the most likely home.

Private-sector participation and cooperation should be voluntary, Republicans say.

“The most effective way of combating potential cybersecurity threats is sharing cyber threat information between the government and industry, as well as protecting the free flow of information within the private sector,” the platform says.

It says that current laws undermine collaboration with a “costly and heavy-handed regulatory approach,” and that “we believe that companies should be free from legal and regulatory barriers that prevent or deter them from voluntarily sharing cyber threat information with their government partners.”

Democrats have sought to establish minimum standards of security for privately owned critical infrastructure and would place responsibility for securing non-military government systems in the Homeland Security Department.

The GOP platform acknowledges the need for government to do a better job of protecting its own systems and calls for the updating the Federal Information Security Management Act. “We encourage an immediate update of the law that was drafted a decade ago to improve the security of government information systems.” No specifics for reform are offered.

At the same time, the document criticizes the current administration for what it sees as a passive approach to cybersecurity.

“There is no active deterrence protocol,” it says. “The current deterrence framework is overly reliant on the development of defensive capabilities and has been unsuccessful in dissuading cyber-related aggression. The U.S. cannot afford to risk the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.”

The Republican platform ignores the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command under the Obama administration as a home for military cyberspace operations, and that the U.S. reportedly launched the first covert cyber sabotage operation against a foreign nation with the use of Stuxnet against Iranian nuclear facilities. The administration has not acknowledged its involvement with Stuxnet.

The Democratic platform notes that the nation’s leadership in use of IT also makes it uniquely vulnerable to attacks and says the president has “taken unprecedented steps to defend America from cyber attacks.”

“We will continue to take steps to deter, prevent, detect, and defend against cyber intrusions by investing in cutting-edge research and development, promoting cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy, and strengthening private sector and international partnerships,” the platform says.

Over the last two years, federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI, have had success in partnering with companies and foreign agencies to shut down and prosecute cybercriminal operations.

Both parties support broader access to high-speed Internet services, with the Republicans focusing on eliminating all forms of regulation and the Democrats focusing on government-private cooperation.

“President Obama has committed to ensuring that 98 percent of the country has access to high-speed wireless broadband Internet access,” the platform says. “President Obama is strongly committed to protecting an open Internet that fosters investment, innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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