New Media Should Dig into Issues Around Cyber-Security

    by Aaron Presnall
    June 2, 2010

    I was honored to be invited by the EastWest Institute to attend in Dallas a Cyber Security Summit, which gathered a fascinating collection of tech elites including Michael Dell, Esther Dyson, Ross Perot Jr., and Randall L. Stephenson; current and retired military and intelligence like James L. Jones, Tom Ridge, and T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley; and financial titans like George Russell and Francis Finlay.

    The mantra of the event was that cyber-security will be the new big obsession of our various security services for the next century — an obsession on par with the human and material resources that went into the nuclear threat in the last century. The emergence of Information and Network Infrastructure Commands in military general staffs across NATO countries demonstrates that this is no rhetorical flourish.

    Yet, we see very little public discussion of the threat, or the strategy or investments we are considering in response. Much of the presentations were cyber-security specialists explaining to financial elites that cyber-security is many things: Cyber-crime, cyber-espionage (military and economic), and cyber-warfare. The main challenge is that a country’s assignment of responsibility for managing offensive and defensive capabilities depends on the source and intent of the attack. Yet, in cyber-attacks the source and intent is rarely apparent so roles are blurred often generating confusion and ad hoc-ery, or even paralysis. Scott Charney gave a very good lunch speech summing these points up.


    This is a huge problem. After hundreds of years of struggle to assert civilian control of the security services — which was in large part achieved by dividing the roles of the military, police, and intelligence functions — we find ourselves in a context where the institutional pressure to retain those divisions might quickly fade. Elements of the overreach by the Bush administration intelligence services monitoring domestic communications are just a small taste of where this can go.

    A Need to Engage the Public

    It is a challenge crying for an informed engaged public discourse, for the sake of our democratic principles, and to defend our brave security services against those who would abuse them for petty political ends.

    One reason given for the lack of public dialogue about cyber-security is that a cyber-war doesn’t draw blood, which makes it a challenge to visualize the importance of the threat to the general public. But, running with the analogy here a bit, we did not — and still do not — have a very public discourse on the nuclear threat either.


    Traditional media did cover the Dallas event, but new media has a special responsibility to dig deeper, ask security elites the tough questions, demand answers, and break through this myth of the bloodless cyber-security threat. There is a need to tell the compelling stories, to inform, and elicit visceral passionate reactions, to devote space and energy to engaging coverage of these questions.

    Tagged: computer security cyber security cyber-attack dallas cyber security summit
    • Gojak

      Yes, cyber-war doesn’t draw blood, but in the end someone gets hurt one way or another. Great topic!

    • kristen

      Very interesting… It is true that many people are expressing concerns over cybersecurity and how it will evolve in the future. Next week at the Newseum in Washington, DC there is another discussion about it. Can’t wait to learn more… Thank you for the information.

    • People have been trying to address the cyber security problem for many years without much success. Many of the issues that are being hyped by the media are not new. The same problems we are facing today are the same problems we were facing 10 years ago. The solutions are the same as well. Is government involvement going to make things better? Perhaps – but what other major crime has government solved over the past 10 years? Drugs are still a problem. Human trafficking is still a problem. So is the problem of counterfeit goods. And the list goes on and on. Government involvement doesn’t make problems go away, it just gets the government involved, which is either a good thing or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

    • I think that all actors – government and private – need to get much more transparent about security and actively engage the public in that conversation.

      Many security thinkers are accustomed to secrecy as an imperative, but I think that an open informed public discourse might lead to some very productive security policy choices: e.g. clearing the internet underbrush would make it much harder for the bad guys to hide amongst the innocent.

      The private sector will probably lead on this (cf the recent security white paper from Google, “Security First”), but the public sector has an even stronger duty here.

      Ultimately, the press needs to hold them all much more accountable.

    • Bojana Radojicic

      I would like to thank Mr. Presnall and at the same time, to support his efforts to activate the public regarding one of modern society`s huge problem – Cyber Security.
      Without any doubt, cyber – crime is a serious threat, and all of us should be aware of its actual and potential danger and damage.
      Certainly, we need more information about this topic and also the strong will to get involved to solve this problem.

    • Barbara

      Constantly using internet, whether for private or business purposes, I am deeply concerned about Cyber security. Thereby, I applaud all attempts to increase the level of Cyber security! Thanks!

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