Cyber Strategy Aims to Ensure Secure US Tech Design, Set International Example

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Federal cybersecurity experts cited the importance of international and domestic partnerships in implementing cybersecurity standards and protocols.

Implementing a national cybersecurity policy will hinge on a multistakeholder approach, with federal experts emphasizing the shared cost burden of mandating cybersecurity standards upkeep and reporting, as well as international partnerships. 

A wide-ranging panel discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council featured major government players in the federal cybersecurity landscape, namely Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly, Acting National Cyber Director Kemba Walden, Ambassador for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nathaniel Fick, and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Marshall Miller. 

“At its core, [the National Cyber Strategy is] significantly reliant on collaboration and cooperation,” Walden began.

Amid a plethora of tech topics, officials honed in on ensuring end users are not solely liable for faulty code or technology that doesn’t reflect best security practices––a pillar of the latest National Cybersecurity Strategy

“We can't allow the end user to be held liable for flaws in code,” Walden said. “It's just that simple.”

Easterly echoed this stance, saying that the design of secure software will have to pivot at a market level to incentivize the manufacturing of systems created with a safety-first approach.

“The incentives are about reducing cost, and speed to market, and cool features. They just were not about safety and security,” Easterly said. “And because everything now has a technology backbone—all critical infrastructure is underpinned by technology, whether that's information technology or operational technology—we have to make this fundamental difference.”

Miller added that the Department of Justice is looking to improve software and hardware design through procurement and contract standards, particularly through disclosing areas of technical deficiencies and cyber incidents. This is part of the Civil Cyber Fraud Initiative, rolled out by the Deputy Attorney General in October 2021.

“We talk a lot about using all instruments of power here to attack this problem,” he said. “One is our procurement authorities and capabilities, and being able to drive innovation, being able to drive security through holding accountable those who come to the federal government and contract with the federal government or vend to the federal government.”

The National Cyber Strategy also describes incentivizing the software market to join partnerships within the public and private sector. 

“We're in very robust conversations with our tech partners, and we are hoping to make some progress in this. But [it’s] incredibly important that those who can bear the burden, bear the burden,” Easterly said. 

In terms of strategic partnerships, the panel also underscored the renewed importance of partnering with ally countries on cybersecurity initiatives. 

Miller said that the FBI is deepening its partnerships with its foreign counterparts, as exemplified by the recent coordinated efforts to take down the stolen data broker platform Genesis Market

“Cybercrime, cyber threats are international in nature, inherently, and we need to make sure that those borders don't get in the way of our being able to follow through…and disrupt and dismantle the threat actors that are out there,” he said. 

Fick noted that ally nations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were also interested in how the U.S.’s new cyber strategy would impact national security, citing a “hunger” within the EU for comparable cybersecurity protocols. 

“Our national strategy is of great interest to allies and partners around the world,” Fick said. Easterly briefly added that CISA is working in tandem with international and domestic partners to release a product that will list technology development approaches and principles to ensure products are secure by default. 

These multi-industry and global partnerships also play a big role in CISA’s continuing efforts to develop international standards for emerging technologies. These standards would act as strong guidance for using sensitive technologies absent specific laws and ethics. 

“We…and international partners, [are] working to get feedback to ensure that as we develop standards, and as we develop things like the cybersecurity performance goals, we are doing that in a very consultative way,” she said. “And that's the way we plan to implement this.”