President Obama's Real Speech on Cyber Security

I was very surprised to read REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON SECURING OUR NATION'S CYBER INFRASTRUCTURE, delivered yesterday. TaoSecurity Blog had received a copy of the President's prepared remarks, but about 2/3 of the way through the live version the President went off-copy. For the sake of my readers I've published the material the President omitted.

...And last year we had a glimpse of the future face of war. As Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, cyber attacks crippled Georgian government websites. The terrorists that sowed so much death and destruction in Mumbai relied not only on guns and grenades but also on GPS and phones using voice-over-the-Internet.

[Here is where the Presidential train left the tracks.]

When considering cyber security, we must recognize that our problems are multi-dimensional.

The first dimension involves the information assets we are trying to protect. Cyber security requires protecting information inputs, information outputs, and information platforms. Inputs include data that has value before processing, such as personally identifiable information. Outputs include data that has value after proecessing, such as intellectual property. Information platforms are the computing devices that process data, such as computers and the networks that connect them.

The second dimension involves the custodians of information assets, which we collect into three broad groups. The first group includes Federal, state, and local governments, with their various departments and agencies. The second group includes corporate, nonprofit, university, and related elements of the private sector. The third group includes individual citizens.

The third dimension involves threats to our information assets, which we collect into three broad groups. The first group includes criminals who attack information assets primarily for financial gain. When the term criminal applies to terrorists we must also consider their desire to achieve political ends as well. The second group includes economic competitors, taking the form of companies acting independently or in concert with national governments. The third group includes nation-state actors and countries, who threaten information assets through espionage or direct attack.

These three dimensions -- the nature of information assets, the varied custodians of information assets, and the many threats to information assets -- prevent the centralization of cyber security in the portfolio of any single "cyber czar" or other government figurehead.

In addition to the three dimensions of cyber security, we must recognize certain environmental factors that weigh upon possible approaches.

First, traditional cyber security thinking has focused on vulnerabilities in the digital world. Many believe that addressing vulnerabilities through better coding or asset management would solve the cyber security problem. However, outside the digital world, vulnerabilities are all around us. Every human is vulnerable to being shot, yet none of us in this room is wearing a bullet-proof vest. Well, almost no one. [laughter] If you leave this building, you still won't wear a bullet-proof vest in public. Why is that? You're exposed, you're vulnerable, but what keeps you safe from threats to your well-being? The answer is that our government and its protective agencies -- police, the military, and so on -- focus more on threats than on vulnerabilities. We deter criminals and prosecute those who do harm us. Cybersecurity is no different. Behind every cyber attack is a human agent acting for personal, organizational, or national gain. However, too much effort is applied to addressing vulnerabilities, when the real problem has always been the threats who seek to exploit vulnerabilities.

Second, cyber security incidents are extremely opaque compared to their non-digital counterparts. If criminals shoot down an airliner, no one can ignore the disaster. Following the previous point, few people turn to the construction of the aircraft when such a heinous act occurs; rather, the perpetrators are hunted and brought to justice. However, when personally identifiable information is stolen from a company, the true victims -- the American citizens now at risk for identity theft -- may never know what happened. Many states have breach disclosure laws, but those laws do not require an explanation of the nature of the attack. As a result, no other organizations can learn how security controls failed at the victimized company.

Third, the costs of cyber security incidents are often not borne by those who should be protecting information assets from attack. This results in the misalignment of incentives. If a company processing personally identifiable information is breached, the majority of the cost is borne by the citizens whose identities are stolen. The company may pay for credit monitoring services, but that cost is insignificant compared to that borne by the citizen. If a software company ships a product riddled with bugs, it generally bears no cost whatsoever if intruders exploit that software once deployed by the customer. The marketplace tends to not punish vendors who sell vulnerable software because the benefits of the software are perceived to outweigh the costs. This makes sense when the customer is a company, and the breach results in stolen PII -- with costs again borne by the citizen, not the company.

These three environmental factors point to a need to change the mindset around cyber security, as well as the need for greater transparency and better alignment of incentives and costs with those who receive benefits from information assets.

Given this understanding of the problem, my administration will take the following actions regarding cyber security.

  1. We will make the Federal government an example for others to follow. We cannot expect any other party to take cyber security seriously if the Federal government doesn't lead by example. We will work to make the Federal government a defensible network architecture. We will finally recognize that, while important, controls are not the solution to our problems. Rather than being control-compliant, we will identify field-assessed metrics to measure our success.

  2. We will work with Congress to establish a national breach disclosure law, and we will require publicly traded companies to outline digital risks in their annual 10-K filings. Then, we will create a National Digital Security Board modeled on the National Transportation Safety Board. The NDSB will have the authority to investigate information security breaches reported by victim organizations. The NDSB will publish reports on its findings for the benefit of the public and other organizations, thereby increasing transparency in two respects. First, intrusions will have real costs beyond those directly associated with the incident, by bringing potentially poor security practices and software to the attention of the public. Second, other organizations will learn how to avoid the mistakes made by those who fall victim to intruders. In some circumstances national security interests may limit the audience for these findings. Those who consider this approach draconian should consider how NTSB reporting improves the safety of transportation over time.

  3. We will consult with the law enforcement community to determine what additional resources they need to deter and prosecute cyber criminals, and fund those requirements. We will be satisfied when a victim of cyber crime has the option to call the police for assistance, rather than rely on hiring their own forensic investigators. If cyber crime is a real crime, then victims should not be forced to outline digital dead bodies without official, expert assistance.

  4. We will vigorously encourage our law enforcement and intelligence services to work with private industry to combat cyber espionage and cyber attack. As with cyber crime, victims should not be expected to defend themselves against professional corporate cyber thieves or foreign cyber warfare experts. This will include funding and fast-tracking deployments of secure communications channels like SIPRNET, and granting security clearances to appropriate parties without specific government contracts, so that victimized organizations can securely communicate with our defense and intelligence communities.

  5. We will instruct the Secretary of Defense to examine the creation of a Cyber Force as an independent military branch. Just as we fight wars on land, at sea, and in the aerospace domains, we should promote warfighters throroughly steeped in the intricacies of defense and attack in the cyberspace domain. We will also make it clear to our national adversaries that a cyber attack upon our national interests is equivalent to an attack in any other domain, and we will respond with the full range of diplomatic, information, military, and economic power at our disposal.

  6. We will drastically expand the Scholarship for Service or Cyber Corps program to include providing assistance to private sector actors and individual citizens who ask for help. Just as the Peace Corps provides physical assistance to developing countries, the Cyber Corps will provide digital assistance to those who apply for it.

  7. We will work with Congress to dramatically increase cyber funding applied research. It is clear that the defensive models we have applied for the last thirty years need, at the very least, a serious review. Funding researchers who can thoughtfully consider different approaches is well worth the effort. This funding will include support for open source software projects that benefit the cyber community at large. We will also aggressively work to deploy more secure protocols to replace those whose threat model has collapsed as the computing environment has changed.

These seven steps are concrete actions that will have more impact than appointing a single person to try to "coordinate" cyber security across the multiple dimensions and environmental factors I described earlier. Thank you for you time. [applause]

Note: If you read this far I am sure you know this was not the President's "real speech." This is what I would have liked to have heard.

Richard Bejtlich is teaching new classes in Las Vegas in 2009. Regular Las Vegas registration ends 1 July.


Spaf said…

My own comments are at
Anonymous said…
You suckered me!

I got to the NDSB stuff and thought "Wow. someone on Obama's staff must be a Taosecurity reader, this could actually make a difference."

Ironically and in case your ego isn't big enough, My wife asked me yesterday what I thought the chances were you'd be appointed...
gnarlysec said…
Haha, I read all of the post but the last "Note" at the end where you said it wasn't his real speech. I started writing up my thoughts on the new "Cyber Force" here and found the note when I was about half way through finishing up my thoughts. I finished my post, pretending it was real though :) Great ideas!
Amanda said…
Clearly, attribution will be difficult to prove. but there are significant possible implications, beyond further proof that cyber warfare is becoming a part of mainstream international conflict.

Popular posts from this blog

Zeek in Action Videos

MITRE ATT&CK Tactics Are Not Tactics

New Book! The Best of TaoSecurity Blog, Volume 4