Cybersecurity and Defense

April 3rd, 2009

The Senate is considering a measure that would give the President sweeping power over the internet and American information systems.  You can read the details here and here.  In summary:

Federal legislation introduced in the Senate this week would give President Obama the power to declare a cybersecurity emergency and then shut down both public and private networks including Internet traffic coming to and from compromised systems.

The proposed legislation, introduced April 1, also would give the President the power to “order the disconnection of any Federal government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security.”

We are subject to potentially devastating attacks directed against networks and information systems.  It’s possible that such attacks, if well-planned and executed, could cripple our financial system and damage our national defense capabilities, not to mention devastating government and private communications. 

The only immediate defense against such attacks will be immediate shut-downs and disconnects of critical systems, perhaps including most internet connectivity, until the attack can be analyzed and countered.  The President has to have the right information to make an immediate decision and the legal power to act.  It’s likely that this won’t happen, but the potential costs of being unprepared are not acceptable.

It’s hard not to compare this with necessary defensive measures of the recent past.  The Patriot Act, extraordinary electronic surveillance, detention of enemy combatants, and other measures were essential to deal with the real threat we face and from which we’ve already suffered grievously.  Despite the fact that 99.9999 percent of U.S. citizens suffered absolutely no ill effects from any of these measures, and despite the fact that they helped us ward off further attacks for more than seven years, Democrats directed non-stop, savage attacks against President Bush and his Party.

The power that the Senate is considering giving to President Obama is necessary, and I hope they do it, even though these measures potentially have much greater impact on American citizens.  But I have to wonder—will the leftists of the Democratic Party mount equally savage attacks against President Obama and other Democrats, demand impeachment, compare them to Nazis, and insist on putting them on trial?

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10 Responses to “Cybersecurity and Defense”

  1. Brian |

    Tom, critical data is generally backed up to tape at least once a day. A DOS attack (or something similar) can be problematic, but to give the president this sort of sweeping power is a disaster waiting to happen. Next thing you know, he’ll be firing corporate officers from the private sector.

  2. Tom |

    Critical data is backed up, of course, and generally that’s probably pretty secure. The real concerns, I think, are massive DOS attacks that would be far more serious than the limited ones we’ve seen before. There are also other kinds of attacks that can be very serious, such as massive, targeted virus attacks, etc. You’d know more about that than I do, but I think it’s clear that someone with extensive resources, detailed technical knowledge, and determination could do severe damage. A hostile government is the most likely aggressor.

    The President already has the unilateral power to launch nuclear weapons on a moment’s notice that could devastate much of the world. That’s because in a scenario where a nuclear response would be necessary, he has to be able to act. I think a large-scale, serious attack of the kind we’re discussing here justifies the same kind of presidential authority, along with the necessary information and support systems.

  3. Brian |

    This would put the president in absolute control of all electronic communication. To say that I am uncomfortable with that would be understatement. I would be uncomfortable with it even if he hadn’t been made by the Daly family. I would be uncomfortable with Madison, Jefferson, or Washington having that sort of power.

  4. Tom |

    Well, the President, any president, already has absolute control over our very lives under certain circumstances. Adding the authority to act under certain kinds of cyberattack seems less draconian and just as necessary. How would you do it differently? No government to speak of, and as the missiles are inbound or a cyber attack begins to take down our entire communications infrastructure, or both, we all gather in tens of thousands of town hall meetings and decide what to do?

  5. Ravan Asteris |

    No. Just… NO! I don’t trust any president, Democrat or Republican, with the power to arbitrarily and completely shut down the flow of information in an emergency. Not Obama, who I voted for, and not any of his successors from any party. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    BTW, the president doesn’t have absolute control over our lives. If you think that way, you are already a slave, if only in your own mind.

  6. Silicon.shaman |

    *shudders at thought*

    Might I point out something that has been largely over looked? A lot, [read, around 90%] of the flow of information is routed though the USA. The Primary DNS, the root, servers for the entire internet are located in the US…

    These new powers would mean that the U.S could effectually hold the rest of the world’s I.T infrastructure hostage.

    Do you *really* think we, i.e the rest of the world, would just let ‘you’ do that?

  7. Tom |

    Ravan Asteris: What I said was that the President has absolute control over our lives “under certain circumstances.” The most obvious example is his authority to order a nuclear response. If that makes us all slaves (which it doesn’t), then you’re one of us.

    Silicon.shaman: Yes, I know that much of the internet infrastructure is in the U.S. That’s because of the fact that what became the internet started here and because of our advanced technical capabilities. But rest easy; that means that the internet is much more safe and secure than if it were based mostly in some other country. And if necessary disconnects had to be made to protect against a serious, widespread cyberattack, can’t you see that this would protect you and anyone else using the internet? No? Well, just keep criticizing and resenting the U.S., if that makes you happy; we’ll continue helping you, as we always have.

  8. doris |

    Right on, Tom. I agree wholeheartedly with you on this one???? Sorry, Brian, but he is correct, the power is already there. This is why we have a president, to make the terrible, tough decisions for us all, because most of us are weiners and couldn’t do it. Supposedly, he has our best interest at heart, that’s why he got elected, and we must trust him a little to do the right thing or get rid of him. We do have a voice, it’s just small.

  9. Kevin |

    I agree with Brian and especially with Ravan. It’s not about what party the president is associated with. I don’t want any president to have that much power. Ditto for the criticisms of Dubya referenced in the post. I criticized him and would do so again in a heartbeat if Obama were to do the same thing.

    The Founders deliberately set up a system of government predicated on balancing power between several distinct factions so that no one faction is superior to the others. Given any president this kind of power is tantamount to turning our backs on our own form of government.

  10. Tom |

    I share everyone’s sentiments about not wanting to give the President too much power. For example, he shouldn’t be able to fire heads of corporations, dictate manufacturing policy, own and control banks, fix wages and prices, etc. Those truly are attacks on our own form of government.

    Unfortunately, there are some circumstances, generally associated with national defense, where there isn’t a choice. The examples I mentioned before are the kinds of situations that are real and serious. They can’t be resolved through town meetings, congressional hearings, or any other process other than the immediate decision of one person in authority. That’s the real world, unfortunately.

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