Cyber-Security and the Presidential Candidates

Cyber-security is rapidly spilling over from an issue that primarily impacts business and government to one that permeates society. A litany of recent headlines about China, Iran and other nation-states possibly spying and engaging in hacks and cyber-attacks—as well as ongoing news about breaches involving the likes of Sony, Anthem and the Office of Personnel Management—is changing the way people think and what they expect from government.

A new study conducted by Tripwire indicates that cyber-security issues are now part of the political discourse in the United States, and voters can expect more cyber-security policy discussions during the presidential debates and into the 2016 election cycle.

A survey of 210 information security professionals found that 68 percent would prefer to vote for a presidential candidate who has a strong cyber-security policy. When asked what role cyber-security policy and regulation play in the upcoming presidential election, 54 percent said it would be a key issue.

Nevertheless, 32 percent of respondents acknowledged that while candidates will likely talk about cyber-security, they think these discussions are primarily rhetoric. Only 14 percent believe that cyber-security will not be a key issue in the upcoming election.

A core problem—one that has the potential to undermine progress—is the fact that many politicians aren’t particularly knowledgeable about cyber-security. Yet, almost all of them recognize that it’s an increasingly important issue that has significant political and financial ramifications.

“There is a big difference between a candidate who has a cyber-security policy and a candidate who simply has an understanding of cyber-security,” points out Dwayne Melancon, chief technology officer for Tripwire.

Battle for Internet Dominance

The issue ripples beyond breaches and breakdowns, however. The Pell Center, a multi-disciplinary research group based at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., notes that “competition for Internet dominance is now being waged across economic, technical, political and social battlefields worldwide. The United States will face challenges to its position of influence over the Internet and the Internet economy unless it develops and delivers a new message focused on economic competitiveness and business opportunity that respects the rights of individuals in their liberty, thoughts and possessions.”

The think tank also notes that “Without a new cadre of leaders—both in government and in the private sector—and a new strategic narrative, it will be difficult for the United States to engage around the globe in a constructive conversation.”

Here are some of the key questions the Pell Center posits:

How will these issues figure in the U.S. Presidential race?

Are the country’s current and future leaders prepared for the tasks ahead of them?

What measures do they need to take? What should be prioritized?

What should the president’s role be in shaping cyber-policy—from issuing Executive Orders and legislative proposals, to convening leaders who have a stake in bolstering cyber-security, to appealing for congressional action in areas such as information sharing, intelligence collection and data breach law?