There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, of course, but White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt has this week done the world a big favour by deflating the rhetoric of cyberwar being perpetrated by certain elements of the US security community.
Last weekend, Mike McConnell, ex-Director of National Intelligence, and currently vice-president of Booz Allen Hamilton, wrote an inflammatory op-ed in the Washington Times, declaring that the US was fighting – and losing – a cyberwar. He called for massive security investment, a re-engineering of the internet, and drew a number of spurious conclusions from a disparate range of examples to support his argument. Ryan Singel took him to task in an excoriating piece at Wired, which laid bare the inconsistencies and self-interest at the heart of McConnell’s statement. I get the sense that Singel had basically had enough of the American public being taken for a ride, and his post for one of the internet’s most respected media outlets may well mark a significant point in cybersecurity discourse.
Two days ago, Schmidt took the time to talk with Singel and to make his own mark on the debate:
Howard Schmidt, the new cybersecurity czar for the Obama administration, has a short answer for the drumbeat of rhetoric claiming the United States is caught up in a cyberwar that it is losing.
“There is no cyberwar,” Schmidt told Wired.com in a sit-down interview Wednesday at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.
“I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept,” Schmidt said. “There are no winners in that environment.”
This is a serious rebuttal to the claims of those like McConnell who explicitly support a return to Cold War thinking – and spending – and will hopefully be backed by the Obama administration in both words and deeds. I’m not going to get into why we shouldn’t expect too much on that front now, but it’s very encouraging that the senior US cybersecurity administrator is making it clear that cybersecurity measures should not be predicated on the incorrect assumption that the US is on a war footing in cyberspace; it’s not. There are live issues of espionage and crime, as Schmidt points out, but a dishonest appeal to fears of persistent military threat is not a sound basis for good policy, domestic or foreign.