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Wed 10 Dec 2008 09:35 AM

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The world at digital war

The changing dynamics of interaction between governments could re-write technology usage in the private sector

Before US President-elect Barack Obama arrives at the White House to take on his new responsibilities, he might have to bid adieu to his beloved BlackBerry, to which he is said to be all but addicted. And, if the suggestions of a new Congressional report are implemented, many other senior CEOs in America might have to give up their own wireless mobile devices.

On Monday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies made public the results of a recent study on cyberspace security. The comprehensive 64-page report, entitled ‘Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency’ stresses the need for everything from local manufacturing facilities for hardware and software to make the US as independent of the global supply chain as possible, to encouraging increased public-private partnership in securing cyberspace.

It calls for new regulations to stretch public level security measures to the private sector, considering the number of products and services that the government uses from private enterprises.

The study, which rejects the prevalent mindset of voluntary regulation as the right solution, calls for the establishment of a new security superstructure, with new departments and heads, the highest of whom will report to the President’s office itself.

By asking for an entire reversal of the concepts on which cyber security has been dealt with so far, the report seems to indicate no device, and not much of information and intellectual property (IP), is safe in today’s times.

According to the report, these drastic changes in security are necessary to protect US interests from not the lone hacker, but planned, collective, targeted attacks conducted by foreign countries that are fast realising that national security is connected to economic well-being. These countries could try to reach into private and public sector devices and information with internal teams, or by helping their companies to hack into the networks of other companies in order to gain competitive advantage.

If you think the situation cannot be as bad as the report seems to state it is, think again.

Peace, as we are enjoying now, can be an illusion. The acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by most nations, following the Cold War, to act as a psychological deterrent to foes, and the increasing cumulative cost of war, has prevented most from taking up swords when they have an issue to solve.

However, these factors have made networks and information the new battlefield. As more sensitive information comes online and becomes easily available, countries are fast realising that the much cheaper, and more effective way, to bring an enemy to its knees, is to attack the foundation that holds and drives its economy – information and IP.

If Obama acts to turn the report’s suggestions into laws, the private sector in the US will be expected to work under strict security processes – processes that are currently being used only by high-level organisations like the NSA (National Security Agency). These regulations might also cross over and influence what many consider civil liberty, thereby exciting controversy and concern.

Whether Obama and his administration decide to put in all regulations as required by the report, prefer to handle it in a step-by-step manner, or shelve it altogether, remains to be seen.

However, if America does put in place security regulations, it will expect its allies to follow suit (considering everything is connected in the global village), and this will mean many countries, and their private sectors, will have to adopt similar defence measures.

If and when that happens, CEOs and higher management of companies will have to let go of the many tools of ubiquitous communication that they are increasingly taking for granted. And the first on that list will doubtless be the BlackBerry.

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