Gilmore Commission critical of Bush cybersecurity plan

WASHINGTON -- A congressionally appointed panel of experts yesterday delivered a report to the president calling the government's incessant focus on public/private partnerships to improve cybersecurity an inadequate solution for the job at hand.

In its fourth annual report, the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, called the recently released Draft National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace "a small step" in the right direction.

"The draft strategy poses what we view as voluntary, tactical responses to an inherently strategic problem of national importance," the report states. The report also faults the Bush plan because it "relies on private sector willingness to take certain security measures and bear their costs, and chooses not to use government's power to legislate, regulate or otherwise require certain actions."

That simply hasn't worked, said Gilmore.

John Marsh, former secretary of the Army
John Marsh, former secretary of the Army
"So far pure public/private partnerships and market forces are not acting ... to protect the cybercommunity," he said. "There is a belief [on the commission] that there needs to be an entirely different commission focusing on the issue of critical infrastructure."

Gilmore also cited the need for a greater focus on burden-sharing between the government and the private sector, as well as on liability issues.

In the report, the commission specifically faults the government for relying too heavily on persuasion to get the private sector to act.

"The government ... has failed to exercise any of its powers other than persuasion," the report concluded. "As a result, there has been no change in the significant market disincentives to the adoption of cybersecurity measures necessary for ensuring the viability of critical functions performed by the information infrastructure that directly contribute to national needs," such as national security and public health.

One of the major stumbling blocks to significant improvements in cybersecurity so far has been the tendency to view cybersecurity separate from the physical aspects of critical infrastructure protection, said Gilmore. "We believe that critical infrastructure has to be looked at as one entire whole and not simply as two pieces," he said.

That sentiment was echoed by John Marsh, former secretary of the Army and the commission member in charge of cybersecurity issues.

"You see an expansion in this report from simply the use of [the word] cyber ... to including cyber as a part of the totality of critical infrastructure," said Marsh. "And it seeks to address the key role that cyber plays in critical infrastructure protection."

In other words, Marsh said, cyberprotection can't be separated from the physical protection of the nation's critical infrastructure.

The commission also criticized the U.S. government for failing to hold leaders responsible for cybersecurity lapses.

"The federal government does not hold its leaders and managers responsible for cybersecurity," the report said. "There are essentially little or no consequences for federal government agencies and officials who do not take prudent steps to improve cybersecurity."

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