Presidential Debate Moderators Drop the Ball on Cybersecurity

Anthony Freed
By | October 29, 2012

Posted in: Network Security Trends

If you give any credence to the headline-making comments being served up by some of our nation's top security officials, like Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the NSA's General Keith Alexander, then the country is faced with an imminent threat from a cyber-borne catastrophe of epic proportions, and businesses are losing billions of dollars in intellectual property to hackers at a rate that threatens our entire economy.

Yet if you watched all three Presidential debates, hopefully you were not holding your breath waiting for the moderators to ask about the state of cybersecurity. Sure, there were brief mentions woven in to the candidates’ answers on national security priorities, but no hard-hitting questions were asked directly on the subject.

“They should have addressed issues like what role government agencies and the military should play in helping the nation combat cyber threats, or if they felt we are doing enough to improve cybersecurity considering we continue to hear from very seasoned experts that we are on the verge of a cyber-Armageddon,” said former White House CIO Theresa Payton in an interview with Security Bistro.

Payton suggests that the complex details underlying cybersecurity may have simply precluded the debate moderators from delving into it, or that a general lack of understanding by the public of the highly technical aspects of the subject matter could have led organizers to forgo any mention of the issue.

“Perhaps the moderators shied away from asking because the nature of what should be covered in those questions is too broad and not widely understood,” Payton continued. “Regardless, the moderators missed an opportunity to really explore the views of both candidates.”

President Obama has made some efforts during his first term where cybcersecurity is concerned , such as commissioning an extensive policy and practices review which resulted in a legislative proposal from the administration, but the proposal was condemned for being to punitive and regulatory in nature. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has pledged to make cybersecurity one of the top priorities for his first 100 days in office should he win the election, but has offered few specifics on his agenda.

The fact that the topic escaped any examination during the debates left more than a few security experts disappointed. “It's a shame that the debate designed to help Americans decide who should be the next President did not include at least one question specifically targeted at cybersecurity,” Payton laments.

“Moderators could have just simply read aloud concerns voiced by businesses, the National Chamber of Commerce, and others during recent testimony on the Hill, and then asked each candidate to comment on what they would do to propel our nation forward where cybersecurity is concerned. The Presidential debates are over but perhaps the security community can better prepare the moderators for the next debates in four years,” Payton said.

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