Computers and the networks that connect them are powerful storehouses of information. They're also vulnerable to sabotage, and the data they handle can be stolen, altered or erased. President Obama has called cyberattacks "one of the most serious economic and national security threats our nation faces."
To help tackle the problem, researchers at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation are exploring issues in cybersecurity and keeping a close eye on the policy discussions. Earlier this month, CISAC brought together a group of lawmakers and industry leaders from Silicon Valley to discuss new efforts to prevent cyberespionage and related crimes.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) talked about a bill he’s introduced to safeguard technology. "The intelligence community believes strongly that it's just a matter of time before we have a catastrophic cyberattack," said Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "We have admired this problem for a very long time and it's time to do something."
Among the other speakers were Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Intel Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini, and security experts from Google, Cisco Systems and Oracle.
After the invitation-only event, CISAC's Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Otellini and Rogers discussed the future of the Internet, the scope of the cyberthreat and government's role in defending against it. Excerpts:
There are core questions about where the world is going
"Cybersecurity problems are real and they’re immediate. And the threats are probably growing and the problems we face require solutions. But it’s just as important to think about where we’re going to be 20 to 30 years from now as it is to deal with the immediate problems. That’s because the choices we make about how to secure cyberspace are going to be choices about what your identity will be online, what powers government will have, what nation states will be able to do to each other, what companies will be able to do when they deal with cyberthreats, how aggressively they will be able to respond on their own -- those are essentially choices about the architecture of the world. So it's useful for us to understand as scholars and as people engaged in policy, that choices about cybersecurity are not just technical. They’re really core questions about where is the world going."
-- Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, co-director, Center for International Security and Cooperation
Preventing electronic pickpockets
"On the commercial side it's no secret that there's industrial espionage going on through cyberhacking. There are also rogue groups that are not nation states, but people who just want to steal your identity. So the ability to see those attacks coming, to see those profiles coming, and to be able to improve the quality of the computer network and the phone networks and the phones themselves will also allow us to protect our own intellectual property as companies, and protect the identity and potentially the financial assets of our collective customers. When your cell phone is your wallet -- as it will be in the not-too-distant future -- all of a sudden that's like having an electronic pickpocket. An attack is going to compromise everything you have. Beyond that, many large technology firms feel that as good corporate citizens and as good local citizens, we have a responsibility to try and make sure the world's computer networks are not disrupted. If computers aren’t trusted, we don't have much of a business. We are commercially incentivized to make all this stuff so much better."
-- Paul Otellini, chief executive officer, Intel.
We can be a partner with industry
"Individually, a company gets hacked for espionage purposes -- that's a criminal event. Collectively, it becomes a national security issue because of the sheer volume of intellectual property that would be compromised. You also have the other level: a disruptive cyberattack that shuts down certain capabilities, whether it's financial, in the energy sector or otherwise. We've fought this fight with dot-gov and dot-mil for quite a long time. Dot-com has, too, but they've been a bit on their own. This proposal has the government weighing in and saying, 'Hey, maybe we can be a partner.'"
-- Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.