Internet security issues took a decidedly back seat during the GOP presidential debate Thursday night with the candidates managing to squeeze in a just few thoughts on encryption, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach and Edward Snowden.
The first cyber topic broached was encryption with Jeb Bush taking on Apple CEO Tim Cook's assertion that electronic communication should be private and that no backdoors into products and systems should be required by the government.
Jeb Bush offered up a two-part response. First, he noted that the government needs to do a better job to gain the trust of businesses and laws must be put in place that would protect businesses from any legal action associated with the companies sharing data with either each other or the government. Next he said the federal government has to raise its own cyber game in order to protect the nation calling the OPM breach shameful.
“We should put the NSA in charge of the civilian side of this as well. That expertise needs to spread all across the government and there needs to be much more cooperation with our private sector,” Bush said during the debate.
Hardware vendors would be the first to agree that there are trust issues between the government and private sector.
Rudo Boothe, director of software and systems architecture for smartphone maker Macate, insisted to SCMagazine.com that any opening left in a system will be discovered by the bad guys and if cybercriminals are stymied by the security technology put on a phone there is no guarantee they won't be able to obtain access through another source.
“It makes me nervous to give away our secrets to an organization [the federal government] that gets hacked,” Boothe said. "If they could guarantee it wouldn't, that would be one thing, but they can't.”
Although not on the debate platform John McAfee, founder of the internet security firm McAfee and is seeking the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party, said in an Op-Ed piece written for Business Insider that Bush's thoughts on how to secure the nation are misguided.
McAfee wrote that it is wrong to approach cybersecurity as an economic problem or one that can be solved by better intelligence, more government programmers or law enforcement.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, adding “The government needs a dedicated Office of Digital Transformation. And this office CANNOT be staffed by anyone currently within the government. The inexcusable hacks within our government should prove there is no one within the government capable if fixing this,” he wrote in Business Insider.
Ben Carson brought up the possibility of the United States having to deal with a cyberattack, but did so as part of a general statement on terrorism.
“The fact of the matter is he doesn't realize that we now live in the 21st century, and that war is very different than it used to be before. Not armies massively marching on each other and air forces, but now we have dirty bombs and we have cyber attacks and we have people who will be attacking our electrical grid,” he said during the debate.
The topic of whistleblower Edward Snowden also made a brief appearance with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) taking fellow candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to task over the latter's initial statement that Snowden's actions were laudable.
“I will work consistently every single day to keep this country safe, not call Edward Snowden, as you did, a great public servant. Edward Snowden is a traitor. And if I am president and we get our hands on him, he is standing trial for treason,” Rubio said.
Earlier in the day before the debate Cruz did reverse his initial opinion now calling Snowden a traitor. In September 2013 Cruz said Snowden had done a great public service by exposing possible government wrong doing. However, he tempered this statement at the time calling for his prosecution if, in fact, he had broken the law.