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Panel Says Cybersecurity Threats in U.S. Loom

October 5, 2009 – The United States will remain vulnerable to increasing cybersecurity threats because of a “national allergy” toward talking about Internet risks and regulations, former CIA director Michael Hayden warned during an Oct. 1 panel discussion.

Hayden and five other panelists discussed how to protect government systems from hacking and computer-network attacks. Georgetown’s Institute for International Law and Politics and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory collaborated to kick off National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with the Thursday morning event.

Experts Call for More Regulation, Cooperation

Panelists called secrecy, disjointed collaboration among federal agencies and discomfort about regulating the Internet roadblocks to beginning discussions about cybersecurity. Several panelists also heaped blame on policymakers and the public for apathy toward enacting digital regulations.

“We’re in a dilemma because we have a very powerful lobbying machine with the idea that government should not regulate, should not intervene and should remain small. Even in national security, that has traction,” said James Lewis, senior fellow at the public policy research nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Cybersecurity’s Long Reach

Failed cybersecurity can wreak havoc, especially when personal information is accessed on the Internet. The FBI reports that cybercriminals make more money than drug traffickers.

On the national security front, hacking isn’t a new problem. Lewis said the first known cyberwarfare breach dates back to 1984 when Russia’s KGB hired German hackers to break into U.S. Department of Defense networks.

Yet talking about cybersecurity in the American political culture is akin to talking about the birds and bees with your parents, Hayden noted. “Everyone is uncomfortable with the conversation.”

The discomfort often stems from fears of chilling free speech and overregulation, he added. Even addressing jihadist Web sites that may recruit, train or raise money for terrorism has been slow because of these concerns.

“If they do (train, recruit or raise money) and we want to do something about these Web sites, what does that do to our free speech at home and around the world?” Hayden asked. “It’s a question to which we have no policy guidance.”

Protecting Yourself

Cybersecurity should be on par with physical security, suggested Wes Spain, program director for intelligence at Livermore National Laboratory.

“People have a general understanding of what’s required to protect their home and how to detect when security has been compromised. They can’t say the same thing about what’s going on with their iPhone or laptop,” Spain said.

Catherine Lotrionte, associate director of the Institute for International Law and Politics, said she sees a place for universities to aid in the solutions.

“Academics are really good at one particular thing – they have a deep understanding and appreciation for the value of theory and how theory can be applied to practical issues, such as the development of cyberpolicy,” she said. “Georgetown specifically can act as a neutral forum where people from different disciplines can come together to deal with these problems.”

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