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Adopting a “Cyber-Posture” to Fight “Digital Assaults”

No business is unaffected by cybertheft, State Department's Strayer warns

WASHINGTON — Cyber-attacks on “critical infrastructure” and theft or espionage involving commercial intellectual property remain the top concerns of the global cybersecurity community, Robert L. Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State said April 19.

In remarks at the Media Institute’s monthly luncheon in Washington, Strayer emphasized, “No business is unaffected by cybertheft” and warned that “we will continue to see threats to the digital ecosystem.”

Strayer declined, when asked by MCN, to specify media or telecom operators, including cable TV, as part of the “critical infrastructure.” But he acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies are constantly examining ways to foil “bad actors” who could disrupt or hack into the operations of American companies.

He said U.S. and global partners “have to think of all the misuses” of cyber systems. He emphasized the growing role of the digital economy and noted that international groups such as the G7 and G20 nations “are increasingly looking at technology issues” such as blockchain, that are affecting traditional global systems.

“As we look around the world, we want to assure an open flow of data,” Strayer said, but at the same time “it is absolutely critical to preserve a decentralized model.” He emphasized that many countries want to regulate the internet, but that U.S. policy will continue to “push back against that.”

Strayer acknowledged that in the US and most democracies, the digital infrastructure is in the hands of the private sector.

“We should not expect companies to operate in cyberspace any differently” than they do in conventional environments, Strayer said, but he warned that the task – including public/private collaboration – may be very challenging.

New cybersecurity standards will be “voluntary,” he said, adding that “industry is driving the solution.” He cited the need “to achieve maximum economic value” as companies battle cyberattacks.

Strayer cited Europe’s “General Data Protection Regulation” that goes into effect on May 25, restricting many ecommerce and digital media practices in an effort to assure consumer privacy. He did not offer an opinion about whether such restraints may eventually emerge in the U.S., especially amid the current furor over activities at Facebook, Google and other companies that collect personal data.

He focused, instead, on ways that federal enforcement agencies are developing systems “to improve our defenses” and create a “cyber-posture” to fight cybercrimes. He said that systems are now “so interconnected that these threats can race around the world” almost instantly.

To battle such scourges, Strayer explained that the State Department and other U.S. agencies have about 150 “digital economy officers” at embassies and other locations worldwide to identify potential cybercrimes and to development enforcement tactics, often in collaboration with host countries.

Strayer also cited forecasts that estimate about 200,000 people will be needed to handle America’s cybersecurity requirements in the coming years — a significant job creation stimulant.