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Cybersecurity: Where do Republicans and Democrats stand on threats?

While US defense officials are warning of the increased threat of cyberattack on strategic US targets, cybersecurity experts were underwhelmed by the parties' platforms on the issue.

By Staff writer / September 6, 2012



US defense officials warn of the increasing threat of cyberattacks on the nation’s power grid, natural gas pipelines, and other strategic infrastructure, but what do the two political parties and their candidates know about these threats – and what will they do to thwart them?

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The US could be hit with a "cyber Pearl Harbor," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged in a June Senate hearing. Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the Pentagon's new US Cyber Command, warned at a security conference in July that on a 1-to-10 scale, American readiness for a major cyberattack is “around a 3.”

Both political parties do recognize, at least, that such threats are quickly becoming a major new US national security problem for the 21st century – as warnings buried deep in their respective political platforms acknowledge.

The Democratic platform, on page 60, spends not quite 200 words on cybersecurity, with the GOP giving the topic twice as much space on pages 41-42. The Democratic script cites "unprecedented steps" taken by the Obama administration to defend America from cyberattacks, including creating the military's new Cyber Command.

By contrast, the Republican document chides the White House for an overreliance on "defensive capabilities" and talks of a crying need for government and business to do a better job of sharing threat information.

Raking over the platforms' statements for shreds of meaning, cyberexperts were alternatively impressed – and depressed.

Some of these experts were, for instance, reassured by the Republican Party's focus on developing US "offensive [cyberweapon] capabilities."

"For far too long, we have sat in the background hoping that our defenses hold up, while adversaries from China and the Eastern bloc steal American IP, and conduct cyber raids against our critical infrastructure," says Jonathan Pollet, founder of Red Tiger Security, a company that specializes in securing computerized control systems that open and close vital valves and switches in industrial settings.

"We are becoming weaker as a nation because of other nation state's aggressive stance on cyber security," he writes in an e-mail. "America must fight back to win, and the GOP statements show me that they actually understand current cyber issues."

Other experts, however, said Republican calls for more cyberoffense were hollow.

"The Obama administration, from the beginning, has implemented aggressive cyberwarfare deployments against Iran," writes John Michener, chief scientist at Casaba, a cybersecurity firm that works with Microsoft and others, in an e-mail interview. “The Democratic platform does not talk about this – and properly so. Cyberwarfare is typically very covert. Overt cyberwarfare is more likely to be responded to by more overt measures."

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