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Cybersecurity – The End of the Beginning

I have watched with both amusement and interest the reaction to the Obama Administration’s recent moves on cyberspace. With their “civilian” bill on Capitol Hill and — according to a Wall Street Journal article — the military’s willingness to take action against cyber-raiders, Washington has entered a new phase in the cyber world, going from the wild frontier to some law and order. It is about time. And, brother, are the natives going to complain.

Whatever the flaws of the Obama proposal for the civilian side, I love seeing the business community bellow. The same folks who fret at conferences around the country about their “cyber safety” and make a bundle selling “protective software” don’t want regulation of their practices by the government. We can do it ourselves they say. Evidence would suggest to the contrary.

And on the left, the cry is Big Brother is intruding so watch out. I am sympathetic to this concern; however, as Justice Jackson once said, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Nor, might I add, does every move by the government constitute the slippery slope to a total breakdown of civil rights. A concern, yes. A disaster, no.

Watching these 20th century mentalities deal with a 21st century problem is both amusing and frightening. Guess what, folks. Cyberspace is as much of a reality as land, sea, air and space. This frontier is without rules or rulers. However, we have not only a national stake in cyberspace through our defense structure; we also have a vast commercial stake with our banking, electrical and other major national industries depending on its viability and safety.

So, let’s introduce another 20th century concept to the debate – civil defense. The Cold War was total war. No civilian target was safe and no international boundaries respected. We chose to protect ourselves militarily but also with deep involvement of civilians. In a way, an early version of “see it, say it.”

Cyberspace is about total warfare, except instead of nation states only, we can now be enjoined by cyber warriors of all ilks – from terrorist groups to flash mob types of angry hackers whose interests temporarily coincide.

It is right and fair for the government to protect the American people. Standards must be set for that protection, and we must be willing and able to attack our attackers.

We are at the end of the beginning of cyberspace and the lawless frontier. Welcome to a new world where law and order is beginning.

Ronald Marks blogs on national security, domestic intelligence and national intelligence issues. Read More