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U.S. said to be eyeing cybersecurity ambassador role

Goal is to have U.N. representative for cybersecurity policies, says Wall Street Journal

March 24, 2010 07:18 AM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. is weighing the creation of an ambassador-level position for negotiating cybersecurity matters at the United Nations and for ensuring the country has a consistent international policy on the issue, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Both the U.S. State Department and Congress are considering the creation of such a role following the recent attacks on Google and numerous other high-tech companies, the Journal said, citing several unnamed sources. The proposals include a plan to develop policies tying foreign aid to a country's willingness and ability to fight cybercrime originating from within its borders.

The impetus for the job, according to the Journal, is coming from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Whoever is appointed to fill it would need to be confirmed by the Senate and would apparently report to either a top State department official or to a panel of federal agency officials involved in cybersecurity matters. No decision has yet been made on whether the position should be mandated by law or created internally by the State Department.

Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking to pressure nations perceived as not doing enough to deter cybercrime. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a bill in the Senate yesterday that seeks to curtail financial help and trade programs with countries seen as havens for cybercriminals.

The newly proposed International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act has already won industry support from the likes of American Express, Mastercard, Visa , eBay, Facebook, Microsoft and Cisco, according to Gillibrand's office.

The developments highlight what some say is the belated but growing concern in Washington over cyberattacks against U.S. targets originating from overseas. Security experts have been warning about the trend for a while and there is widespread expectation that the Obama Administration will move swiftly to deal with the problem.

"I think we are a little late" with such initiatives, said Patricia Titus, the former chief information security officer at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who now holds a similar job at Unisys Corp. "I had anticipated that Secretary Clinton would already be working on this just because of the amount of activity that has been taking place," she said.

Even so, the proposals are a step in the right direction, Titus said. The State Department also needs to consider appointing cybersecurity attaches at U.S embassies in key countries such as China, Russia and India. Such attaches are vital for a proper dialog between countries during a cybersecurity crisis, she said.

"We need to have feet on the ground," she said. "We need to have the ability to reach and talk with our technology counterparts" in other countries to avoid finger pointing during a crisis. Cybersecurity attaches can play a vital role in enabling the needed dialog.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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