President Obama’s administration just took some significant steps toward improving cybersecurity in the United States. On February 9, the White House announced two initiatives aimed at strengthening online security for government, business and consumers:
- The president issued an executive order to create a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity. The appointed board of up to 12 members, which will be within the Department of Commerce, will make recommendations to strengthen cybersecurity in the public and private sectors.
- The administration also laid out a multipronged Cybersecurity National Action Plan. It includes a series of short-term actions designed to improve long-term security. Among other steps, the plan includes proposed investments in federal IT infrastructure and creates a federal chief information security officer to lead changes.
“Bold action is required to secure our digital society and keep America competitive in the global digital economy,” according to the White House.
Leaders at SDN Communications in Sioux Falls applaud the attention the administration is giving to cybersecurity. Security services are among SDN’s specialties. The regional business broadband internet provider also offers other related telecommunications services.
SDN CEO Mark Shlanta says creating the commission and developing a national cybersecurity strategy is encouraging.
“Cyberattacks have become one of the greatest threats to the well-being of the United States. The president’s actions demonstrate that the nation has learned from past oversights and wants to create an online network that is safe as well as efficient,” Shlanta said.
Shlanta looks forward to following the commission’s deliberations and seeing their recommendations.
The Cybersecurity National Action Plan proposes to create a $3.1 billion Information Technology Modernization Fund to retire, replace and modernize old government infrastructure.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget proposes overall investments of more than $19 billion in national cybersecurity, an increase of more than 35 percent from 2016. Billion-dollar expenditures cannot be taken lightly. But as past attacks on government agencies and private businesses have shown, investments to improve national cybersecurity are overdue.
“Investing in cybersecurity is money well spent,” Shlanta said.
Shlanta also likes the emphasis the strategy places on strengthening academic institutions to get more and better-trained cybersecurity experts into the workforce. Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., is among the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Infrastructure Assurance Education.
“We in South Dakota are lucky to have DSU,” Shlanta said. “We need more cybersecurity professionals. Universities such as DSU are a critical piece of expanding the training pipeline to address the workforce challenge.”
Educational opportunities could be expanded, for example, by growing student loan forgiveness programs for cybersecurity experts who join the federal workforce.
Cybersecurity begins and ends with you
The Obama administration also is encouraging Americans to make their own online accounts more secure. Strong passwords, alone, no longer offer enough protection. Account-holders should use multi-factor authentication procedures to access information online. Using text message and email delivery for authentication codes and fingerprint identification also strengthen the security of electronic data.
Reviewing data breaches often finds that careless human error is what ultimately compromised the system. Common sense and using precautionary measures such as two-factor authentication could have prevented some of them.
With criminals, terrorists and enemy nations increasingly attacking American targets from the comfort of their computer screens, establishing the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity and development of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan are welcome first steps. Undoubtedly, even more steps will have to be taken in the future to combat evolving threats.
In a presidential election year, any action of consequence that the nation’s chief executive or Congress proposes is at risk of being ground into campaign fodder. Let’s hope the nation’s elected leaders ignore any political distractions and focus on continuing to enhance digital protections for America.