Former CIA Director: Build a new Internet to improve cybersecurity

The United States may seriously want to consider creating a new Internet infrastructure to reduce the threat of cyberattacks, said Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush's CIA director.

Several current federal officials, including U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander, also have floated the concept of a ".secure" network for critical services such as banking that would be walled off from the public Web. Unlike .com, .xxx and other new domains now proliferating the Internet, .secure would require visitors to use certified credentials for entry and would do away with users' Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. Network operators in the financial sector, for example, would be authorized to scan account holders' traffic content for signs of trouble. The current Internet setup would remain intact for people who prefer to stay anonymous on the Web.

"I think what Keith is trying to suggest is that we need a more hardened enterprise structure for some activities and we need to go build it," Hayden said during a roundtable on cybersecurity hosted by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. "All those people who want to violate their privacy on Facebook -- let them continue to play."

Nations with fewer civil liberty protections, including China, use "deep packet inspection" to search all Internet traffic for viruses -- as well as anti-government content, noted James Mulvenon, a China and cybersecurity specialist. Due to privacy laws, the United States cannot monitor private network traffic using this approach. Mulvenon questioned whether such restrictions give other nation states the upper hand in cyber defense. "We still believe that anonymity is possible," he said of America's attitude toward freedom of expression on the Internet.

Mulvenon, an executive at Defense Group Inc., a government contractor that provides agencies with intelligence analysis, has in mind a three-level network. "If you want to do banking, there's no anonymity," and users would need to enter true names and digital credentials to operate in the space, he said. The middle level, perhaps applicable to the .edu domain, would require fewer personal details from visitors.

"At the bottom, you can run around like a hobbit," he said. "How can you have a multilevel system that allows you to play up here and down there and doesn't compromise your ability to play?" is the challenge.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., chairman of the Judiciary Crime and Terrorism subcommittee, has cited Alexander's backing of the idea to urge that his fellow lawmakers help create a .secure domain.

"This doesn't have to be complicated or even mandatory," he said on the Senate floor in November 2010. "The most important value of a dot-secure domain is that, like dot-gov and dot-mil, now we can satisfy consent under the Fourth Amendment search requirements for the government's defenses to do their work within that domain, their work of screening for attack signals, botnets and viruses."

Today, searches of the .gov domain are conducted by the Einstein program, an intrusion prevention and detection system under the direction of the Homeland Security Department that monitors only federal traffic for signs of unauthorized access. It alerts response teams to potential attacks and automatically blocks penetration in some cases.

Whitehouse went on to say, "Core elements of our electric grid, of our financial, transportation and communications infrastructure would be obvious candidates. But we simply cannot leave that core infrastructure on which the life and death of Americans depends without better security."

The Obama administration and lawmakers currently are collaborating on sweeping cybersecurity legislation to bolster federal oversight of commercial and civilian government networks. The White House's proposal would not physically segregate critical infrastructure networks but would place those systems under greater DHS oversight.