The title of Larry Clinton’s college thesis, “Communications Competency in Long-Term Relationships,” might lead you to believe that come 2016 he’d be giving the likes of Dr. Ruth some stiff competition as a relationship specialist rather than influencing cybersecurity policy on Capitol Hill as the president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance (ISA).
Instead of counseling dysfunctional couples through thorny relationships, though, Clinton can be found helping legislators, regulators and other stakeholders navigate the equally treacherous terrain of cybersecurity policy. The self-described “reformed academic,” who majored in communications and specialized in interpersonal relationships, just recently delivered 106 recommendations, as well as a 12-step program of high-level recommendations, for the incoming administration, to legislators, policymakers and the two major political parties in the form of “The Cyber Security Social Contract,” penned by ISA board members. The ISA president recently told SC Media that he’s optimistic that cybersecurity will continue to gain prominence and he projected additional budget dollars will be spent on cybercrime going forward into the next administration.
“The Cyber Security Social Contract,” the ISA points out, is the reference most often cited by President Obama’s major cybersecurity policy report. It also has nabbed the endorsement of the House GOP Task Force Report on Cyber Security. Not surprising, on a Capitol Hill where legislators and leaders are in need of practical guidance as they scramble to build policy around cybersecurity.
“Each board member wrote about the unique challenges in cybersecurity in their industry sector and provided pragmatic policy recommendations for the incoming administration based on the unique needs of their sectors,” Clinton says. “We also addressed six cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed: the evolving nature of corporate boards; how cyberauditing needs to be reformed; the use of cyberinsurance; resolving the tensions between the privacy, security and intelligence interests; setting up a digitally sensitive organization; and how to manage public-private partnerships.”
The recommendations offered in the book’s 12-step program for the incoming administration include a charge to attack cybersecurity with “far greater urgency,” drastically increase funding, reorganize government to reflect the digital world and test the NIST Framework for both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness.
For Clinton, “The Cyber Security Social Contract” is the culmination of a lifetime spent influencing and crafting public policy in the communications sector. The ISA head and former marathoner came to cybersecurity not as a technologist but as a policy pro with a deep understanding of how Washington works, forged first as the head of a Congressional primary campaign of a faculty member at University of Illinois.
The candidate failed to gain office, but not before Clinton caught the attention of other potential lawmakers. He ended up leading a successful general campaign and getting his own foot in the door on Capitol Hill. In the early 1980s he was involved in the “very aggressive” creation of policy around telecommunications, eventually landing at the USTA, which influenced a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act in 1996. And that laid the foundation for his ensuing work on cyber policy.
“The internet was just coming on board,” says Clinton. “I became an internet specialist.”
He also lost his job at USTA after the 2000 presidential election during the routing of Democrats from K Street. He landed at Dave McCurdy’s Electronic Industry Alliance and when McCurdy, who Clinton calls a real “visionary,” got on board with Carnegie Melon to found the ISA, Clinton was tapped to run the new association.
“ISA has taken the slant on cybersecurity that we don’t look at this as a technical issue,” says Clinton. “The mission of ISA is the marrying of advanced technology with economic and public policy to create a sustainable system of cybersecurity.”
And those early studies in interpersonal relationships have been put to good use. “I find a lot of similarities: You need to be able to take others’ perspective, you need to be flexible enough to adapt, “ he says. “We’ve adapted the theories of relationships to the public/private partnership.”
That approach has made Clinton and the ISA influential indeed.