Security pro urges prez candidates to prioritize cybersecurity

 Bit9+Carbon Black Chief Security Strategist Ben Johnson is hoping raise the profile of cybersecurity and put it on presidential candidates’ dockets in time for the next debate.
Bit9+Carbon Black Chief Security Strategist Ben Johnson is hoping raise the profile of cybersecurity and put it on presidential candidates’ dockets in time for the next debate.

Although the overflow of rhetoric early in the political season has left very little room for numerous issues in the runup to next year's presidential election, Bit9+Carbon Black Chief Security Strategist Ben Johnson is hoping to raise the profile of cybersecurity and put it on candidates' docket in time for the next debate.

Requesting a “metaphorical seat” on the campaign bus in a letter to the presidential hopefuls, Johnson noted that one of the candidates would eventually be governing the U.S. “through the most trying period in cybersecurity history,” but expressed dismay that the topic “has been – at best – a secondary issue in your campaigns” with “virtually no meaningful discussion about cybersecurity” during the debates. 

In an interview with SCMagazine.com, the former NSA and DoD security expert expressed frustration that candidates have not offered any plans or details about their cybersecurity positions or indicated who they might appoint to help their administrations lead the charge. “There's really nothing being said – zero in terms of importance,” he explained.

Johnson urged the candidates to change that reality. Citing massive breaches and “rocky” relations with nation-states and calling the Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA) likely “ineffective,” he called for the contenders to take cyber more seriously before a “cyber 9/11” forces the issue.

“The tragedy in Paris has painfully demonstrated that physical attacks and violence are rarely without a cyber component,” Johnson wrote in the Tuesday letter to the presidential hopefuls. “The increased awareness around the need to properly collect intelligence and monitor new types of technology is a positive start for cybersecurity, but most of the discussions have simply been around encryption and the government's desire to install backdoors – something that could be abused and actually weaken our nation.”

Johnson told SCMagazine.com that the issue has failed to gain traction in part because it doesn't stir controversy. “One thing cyber suffers from on the campaign trail is that most people agree,” he said. “People [typically] pick topics that are polarizing” to differentiate themselves from the pack.

With less than a year left before Americans vote for the next occupant of the White House, Johnson wrote that the victor “will need to acknowledge that we are on the precipice of losing the cyber war,” and take steps to prevent the “cataclysm” by taking “immediate, decisive action” and make “an open dialogue with our country's cybersecurity professionals and the American people a centerpiece of your campaigns for the White House.”

Johnson told SCMagazine.com that he'd like to see the candidates raise awareness, discuss “more about who they'd like to surround themselves with and reveal more substantive plans. “Candidates have to give some sort of plan and not just say they're going to do things,” he said, adding, “There's a huge shortage of talent and government is in a good spot to help jumpstart them.”

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