Cybersecurity: The lobbyist's dream?

Cybersecurity: The lobbyist's dream?

Summary: Is President Obama's view on cybersecurity producing the desired effect?


Congress and the Obama Administration have been vehement in what they want to see in terms of cybersecurity defense, but cybercrime appears to be producing growth in unexpected areas.

According to Bloomberg, recent attempts to bring light to the issue of cybersecurity have resulted in exploding growth in political lobbying. By the end of 2012, 513 filings by consultants and companies were made to try and press Congress on the issue, which is up 85 percent from 2011 according to Senate filings.

As the threat of cybercrime becomes more firmly entrenched in Western society, more firms have taken steps to lobby for additional protection. This year, 12 companies -- including Google's Motorola Mobility, Symantec and Ericsson -- have all filed new registrations with the Senate, but this is likely to drag government and industry into the ring over official regulation and business practices.

Speaking to the publication, provost at Wake Forest University Rogan Kersh commented:

"Cybersecurity is a lobbyist's dream. This is going to be a titanic clash, and when that kind of industry power is aligned against each other, lobbyists start sharpening their knives and forks."

The interest displayed by companies and organizations in influencing future cybersecurity policy reflects the current, fragile climate -- an almost blank slate that various organizations would like to shape themselves. Institutions with valuable information -- such as investors or banks -- are often a target, and vital infrastructure is also under scrutiny. Although no catastrophic attacks against core services have taken place in the United States yet, there is no reason to believe that this isn't written into the country's future.

However, protection has to be balanced with what firms and organizations are willing to invest to protect their networks. In a recent meeting between President Obama and a number of leaders from the technology, finance and energy industries -- including AT&T, Exxon Mobil and JPMorgan Chase & Co -- CEOs asked for a "light touch" from the government and flexible future policy.

Two key themes that have come up within this discussion; the wishes of businesses to be protected from customer-led privacy lawsuits for sharing information, and the prevention of liability claims if organizations fail to act on security-related warnings.

In addition, even though the U.S. government now considers cybercrime more of a threat than terrorism, Internet service providers and a number of large telecommunications firms have also argued against an FCC recommendation that particular security measures should be made compulsory for businesses.

China has also come to the front within the discussion. A recent report from security firm Mandiant which suggested a single building -- overseen by the country's military -- is the origin of an "overwhelming" number of cyberattacks pushed the rumors of Chinese hackers back into the spotlight, and now Obama has stated that cybersecurity is a "key" topic in future political talks with the country. However, it's not all one-sided, as North Korea has recently blamed its southern counterpart and the U.S. for attacks against the country's systems.

All of these examples led to an interesting debate over the future of cybersecurity worldwide. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who sits on the Senate Commerce and Intelligence committees, told the publication:

"Companies used to think they could ignore this issue or sweep it under the rug. There's more and more recognition, industry by industry, that the sheer volume of threats can't be hidden anymore."

Topics: Security, Government US, Malware

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  • A defense contractor's dream as well

    But since lobbyists and defense firms tend to be tag teams....

    The fundamental problem I noticed a long time ago, most noticeably with DHS after its formation during the Bush years, is that defense contractors and their lobbyist behave more like hackers and virus writers in they way they are so focused and expert in ways to exploit weaknesses and vulnerabilities for financial gain. Instead of exploiting weaknesses in computer systems, though, defense contractors and their lobbyists exploit weaknesses in the government budget and procurement process (as well as morals and ethics.) This drains away enormous amounts of money and resources, leaving little that can be used to actually get some things at least done right.

    A good example is the M1 Abrams tank, which dates back to 1980. Look at what happened when the Pentagon tried to save $3 billion when it decided it would be best to do a complete redesign than just keep refurbishing it:

    And note well that most if not all of the Republican members of Congress who helped thwart the Pentagon's rare plan to save money are the very same people who ostensibly want the government to be much more aggressive in cutting spending. They and many Democrats as well were all very well played by the tank's manufacturer, General Dynamics, and its deservedly well-paid lobbyists.

    While computers are not tanks, you have *exactly* the same sort of shenanigans going on involving anything "cyber" or with just having "security" in its name. Defense contractors like Lockheed-Martin, who have virtually no credibility or even presence in the real world in terms of cyber security, somehow magically transform into world leading cyber security experts the closer you approach the Jabberwocky-ish land of Washington, D.C., where Congress people, lobbyists, and defense contractors all gyre and gimble in the wabe.

    The bottom line is that their will be little to show for additional government efforts to improve cyber security if there is no change in who gets the money and for what, especially if there is no real penalty for failure, which is also usually the case with well-connected defense contractors.
    • Spot-on

      they talk of "the freedom to fail" to us, and how we have to "be responsible" (while anyone with eyes open can see devaluing or disappearing jobs combined with higher education degrees, and the much higher costs to earn them, to get those jobs - even at entry level, whose wage makes paying back such loans (which are inevitable) harder to do.

      Never mind corporate welfare, for which anyone spending a few minutes can find hundreds of eye-opening articles... especially as, without their welfare, the system would crash because not enough middle class wage-paying jobs exist to keep the system up legitimately - wages have been whittled down or jobs offshored, with something making up the difference... which is corporate welfare. We talk of deficit spending, while ignoring how the lack of jobs and wages to tax also adds to deficit spending, so why do we give out corporate welfare to the entities messing with the market for their personal (albeit short-term) profit in the first place?

      Especially Citizens for Tax Justice, which is as conservative as they get - and it is a great resource (and I'm a Democrat!)
  • So much for a free market where government intervention is bad

    CEOs that have whined about government regulation have no right to now demand any form of help, especially when the bulk of these companies already receive loads of corporate welfare - and for what in return, apart from being propped up while they offshore jobs and claim the difference as "profit", and that is an unsustainable format...

    Now ask why software and other companies have given source code to other countries and if doing so poses a security risk...

    JustCallMeBC's comment above hits the nail on the head, though some Democrats are complicit as well. It merely depends on who is bought and paid for, and who said lobbying is a part of democracy when - in action - it looks more like a viable part of a plutocracy, oligarchy, or corporatocracy.