Does the U.S. Need a ‘See Something, Say Something’ Campaign for Cybersecurity?

An IDC report suggests the United States look to Israel’s model of security to combat cyberthreats.

National Journal
Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov
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Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov
Aug. 14, 2015, 6:04 a.m.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment must play team lead­er in up­ping the coun­try’s cy­ber­se­cur­ity game, ac­cord­ing to a new study.

Spe­cific­ally, Alan Webber, In­ter­na­tion­al Data Cor­por­a­tion re­search dir­ect­or for glob­al pub­lic safety and na­tion­al se­cur­ity, re­com­mends the gov­ern­ment look to Is­rael’s mod­el of se­cur­ity.

The gov­ern­ment in­stills in Is­rael­is an aware­ness of di­git­al threats, much like the way the United States has made cit­izens aware of phys­ic­al threats with “See Something, Say Something” ads at air­ports, train sta­tions, and oth­er pub­lic gath­er­ing spaces. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s “Stop. Think. Con­nect.” cy­ber­threat warn­ing, however, does not seem to be en­ter­ing in­to the pub­lic con­scious­ness.

“The United States lacks a cy­ber­se­cur­ity-fo­cused cul­ture,” Webber said in a re­port re­leased Thursday. “The na­tion of Is­rael has a very high-level se­cur­ity cul­ture, both phys­ic­ally and di­git­ally.”

Is­rael’s real-world pro­tec­tions in­clude fences, se­cur­ity patrols and oth­er tan­gible items. Is­rael’s di­git­al de­fenses in­clude “a cul­tur­al mind­set that is sus­pi­cious of un­so­li­cited emails and pack­ages, looks for things out of the or­din­ary, and is con­sist­ently mind­ful of se­cur­ity,” Webber said. In the United States, cit­izens lock their doors, in­stall sur­veil­lance cam­er­as and call the po­lice to re­port sus­pi­cious activ­it­ies, he said. But that cau­tion has not trans­ferred in­to cy­ber­space, where Amer­ic­ans, largely, do not look out for sus­pi­cious email head­ers, fraud­u­lent web­sites and oth­er on­line ab­nor­mal­it­ies.  

Is­rael’s real-world pro­tec­tions in­clude fences, se­cur­ity patrols, and oth­er tan­gible items. Is­rael’s di­git­al de­fenses in­clude “a cul­tur­al mind-set that is sus­pi­cious of un­so­li­cited emails and pack­ages, looks for things out of the or­din­ary, and is con­sist­ently mind­ful of se­cur­ity,” Webber said.

In the United States, cit­izens lock their doors, in­stall sur­veil­lance cam­er­as and call the po­lice to re­port sus­pi­cious activ­it­ies, he said. But that cau­tion has not trans­ferred in­to cy­ber­space, where Amer­ic­ans, largely, do not look out for sus­pi­cious email head­ers, fraud­u­lent web­sites, and oth­er on­line ab­nor­mal­it­ies.  

An­ti­vir­us soft­ware, ser­vices that scour the secret “Dark Web” where per­son­al in­form­a­tion is auc­tioned, and em­ploy­ee train­ing have not stopped hack­ers from steal­ing Tar­get cred­it-card data, copy­ing Sony’s in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­erty, and ex­pos­ing secrets about fed­er­al em­ploy­ees from the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment.

Webber high­lights “great ini­tial ef­forts” at the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment, such as the Na­tion­al Cy­ber­se­cur­ity and Com­mu­nic­a­tions In­teg­ra­tion Cen­ter, con­ceived sev­er­al years ago to share tips on hacks with the private sec­tor. But the ex­tent to which fed­er­al in­form­a­tion-shar­ing hubs and each of the 16 crit­ic­al private sec­tors — from chem­ic­al man­u­fac­tur­ers to en­ter­tain­ment firms — are in lock­step re­mains un­clear. 

“The amount of in­form­a­tion is not as ex­tens­ive as it could be,” Webber said.

The IDC re­port does not dis­cuss the con­tro­ver­sial is­sue of the United States “hack­ing back” or per­pet­rat­ing cyberes­pi­on­age and de­ploy­ing dam­aging mal­ware to pree­mpt at­tacks on U.S. net­works. Webber said he as­sumes such of­fens­ive ac­tions already are un­der­way. 

“We have de­pended upon gov­ern­ment to pro­tect us, from the po­lice of­ficer walk­ing his beat to the sol­diers, sail­ors, and air­men in the U.S. mil­it­ary,” he said. “But the nature and the speed of threats have changed, and with it, so should what gov­ern­ment does to pro­tect its cit­izens and busi­nesses in this new cy­ber­world.”

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