The Cybersecurity Issue Gets Attention from the White House

It’s reassuring to see that the White House administration recognizes the dire need to address the flaws and holes in the nation’s cyberspace systems. On Tuesday, February 9, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new Cybersecurity National Action Plan, in tandem with his final annual budget proposal that includes $19 billion in funding for a broad cybersecurity plan. The $19 billion cybersecurity request reflects a 35 percent increase above current spending, according to a New York Times article on the proposed federal budget.

This announcement is an important step towards protecting the American public from the ever-growing threat of cyber attacks. The threat landscape is constantly evolving, and cyberattacks come in many forms: distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, malware, viruses, phishing, application layer attacks, etc. It is common knowledge that lone actors, nation-states, and criminal organizations have already hacked into networks for a variety of motives: to make a political statement, to disrupt business, to demand ransoms or to steal trade secrets, intellectual property or sensitive personal information. It is an international issue as well, with political, economic and military implications; some black hat hackers have hacked critical infrastructure systems.

Network security threats are not limited to federal government agencies such as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which suffered a massive data breach that began in 2014 and lasted into early 2015. Numerous corporations, such as Target and Home Depot, have suffered data breaches that impacted not only the corporations’ bottom lines, but the lives of millions of Americans.

The new Cybersecurity National Action Plan calls for increased partnerships with the private sector, workforce training programs in cybersecurity, educational awareness campaigns, and a bipartisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. In addition, some of the funds will go towards overhauling outdated federal government IT systems. In an op-ed article published in the Wall Street Journal, President Obama wrote: “It is no secret that too often government IT is like an Atari game in an Xbox world.” It’s vitally important to update government IT systems; in many cases it’s not for the sake of privacy protection or agency efficiency, but of public safety. Although updating (and protecting) IT systems is a daunting task, it is not impossible, because technology solutions exist that are very effective at preventing, detecting and mitigating cyber threats.

People can argue that the federal budget should be managed differently, or they can debate about the best approach to ensure cybersecurity, but no one should dismiss the need for better cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors. One cannot argue with the fact that cybersecurity does require partnerships between academia, government and the private sector. And, whether one’s political hue is red or blue, cybersecurity should not be a partisan issue; indirectly or directly, all Americans pay the price of cyber attacks.