menu

Cyber Déjà vu All Over Again – Challenges in 2013

One of the great wits of the mid-20th Century, Yogi Berra, once observed after two of his team’s leading home run hitters smacked back to back homers, “it was déjà vu all over again.” His wisdom applies to the year 2013 in cyberspace – it is going to be déjà vu all over again.

So, I am going to take a great leap into the unknown and call out four Cyber Challenges for this year. None of these challenges are “fatal.” They are simply the challenges at hand. And, of course, prognostications are filled with danger that the predictor will simply be dead wrong or spout the conventional wisdom. The “unknown unknowns” are a minefield never well negotiated.

1. Under any and all circumstances, there will be increased domestic government regulation and involvement in the Internet. The Executive Branch is going to finally hassle out its Executive Order and more deeply involve Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the day to day running of the Net. Homeland will get the task of reaching out to the business and private sector with information and security advice. The FCC will look more carefully at content and bandwidth to decide what really defines “net neutrality” after the courts get through with their machinations. Do not be surprised if they also look at content in terms of “suitability” for the public in response to rising complaints about pornography and violent games.

Over at the Defense Department, with budget considerations in mind and some guidance from the Executive Order, Cyber Command will get a careful scrub as to the definition of its mission. Its reach overseas will continue, but a more formal set of rules of engagement will be established, focusing on active measures to deal with miscreants. It will also be required to coordinate and “download” its domestic protection role to DHS.

As for Capitol Hill, there are a sheaf of Internet bills coming out of Homeland, Intelligence and other committees, and it is doubtful much will get passed again. Internet lobbyists have been extremely effective in blocking legislation and have honed their skills in the past year. Still, on the Hill, simplicity is bliss. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers will likely get a bill out focusing on information sharing and some kind indemnification for business losses to Internet thievery.

2. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) meetings in Dubai in early December showed clearly that Russia, China, Iran and other authoritarian regimes are going to assert themselves over the Net in a big way. With ambiguous results (at best) in Dubai, Moscow and their like-minded friends are going to assert direct control over the Internet in their countries without apology or excuse. Moreover, it is clear they will no longer tolerate U.S. control over the Net, including the rule of such organizations as ICANN. It is equally true that there is little the United States can do about it.

Another factor that was apparent in Dubai, and throughout the Net, governments are tired of losing potential tax revenues on the Net. Expect to see a number of “transaction taxes” put in place by various countries around the world trying to capture a share of an explosively expanding market.

3. Big Data and the Cloud will become a real “handful,” and as major political and financial issues occur, growing pains will plague both the government and the private sector. The Big Data issue is one of simple logistics. We are accumulating information at an unprecedented pace. The information gathered in the last few years of the Internet, according to some experts, now exceed all the information gathered since man began keeping records. The storage of this information is becoming problematic and expensive. The sheer number of data storage facilities with their massive power drains will continue to multiply at a rabbit-like pace.

I suspect, as with the swift development of expert data miners, you will see in 2013 technical developments that compress data in ways that ameliorate this massive expansion. Otherwise, a data center is coming near you.

As for the Cloud, the issue of security is being recognized and addressed with great success. It will continue to “shape up” in 2013 as a safe place to be. However, like other places where information is stored, it remains vulnerable to the “insider threat.” People are people and spies are spies – whether angry ex-employees or national security agencies of different countries penetrating systems. The best defense is a good offense. Cyber security in the Cloud will be “good business” for some time to come.

4. Big Data represents a real opportunity for business and government to more successfully examine and anticipate trends like never before. Taking the example of Amazon and other Net-centric firms, President Obama’s campaign was able to identify, target, and “activate” their political base that was unheard of even four years ago. That ability to move political and economic actors will be accelerated this year in business and will really accelerate in politics for any and all running for re-election next year. We are seeing the end of retail politics and the beginning of “concierge” politics.

The USG’s ability to use Big Data for its own national security purposes has been more problematic. Big Data is happening because the volume and velocity of data are accumulating at a 21st Century rate. Predictive analysis for policy makers is still happening at a 20th Century rate. The Arab Spring is the “Pearl Harbor” of such predictive analysis. While it is clear from the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report that the problem is recognized, it appears to be a conundrum that they need to resolve. With government cuts coming, it is unlikely they will do what the private sector is moving toward – data experts who can cut their way through the system and quickly extract information for analytical purposes – see above the success of the Obama campaign. This will remain a long-term government problem with likely analytical failures to come as a result.

The bottom line for 2013 is the continuation of the problems in 2012, albeit with some solutions on the horizon. But, as I said at the beginning, the goblins of the “unknown unknowns” are waiting out there to bite us.

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