Tech industry split on cybersecurity regulations

A large tech group raises concerns about cybersecurity legislation

Recent cybersecurity legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress seems to be creating a split in the tech community. Some security vendors say new regulations may be necessary, while a major tech association said it has major concerns about the legislation, called the Cybersecurity Act.

The legislation, introduced April 1, would require U.S. President Barack Obama to develop a national cybersecurity strategy, create cybersecurity standards that some private companies would have to follow, and allow the president to shut off Internet traffic to compromised federal and privately held networks that are part of the U.S. critical infrastructure.

Those provisions of the bill raise major concerns with TechAmerica, a giant trade group that represents a wide range of technology companies, Phil Bond, president of the organization, said Monday.

There are parts of the bill TechAmerica supports, but giving federal officials the power to shut down private networks may be going too far, he said.

Granting such authority "requires a whole lot of discussion," Bond said. "It gives us great pause to think a federal official would be able to shut down a private network."

The bill, introduced by Senators Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, also gives new cybersecurity authority to the U.S. Department of Commerce, when some of that authority already exists elsewhere, said Liesyl Franz, vice president of information security program and global public policy at TechAmerica.

The bill would give the agency power to license and certify cybersecurity professionals, and TechAmerica has questions about how that would operate, she said.

The bill's authors have indicated the legislation is a starting point for discussion, and TechAmerica will engage in that discussion, Bond said.

Instead of new cybersecurity mandates, the government and other groups need to do more education about why private companies should invest in cybersecurity, TechAmerica officials said.

Some small companies still may not understand the need for cybersecurity measures or have the money to buy tools, Franz said.

TechAmerica called for the U.S. government to initiate a nationwide dialog about cybersecurity, and the bill does include money for federal cybersecurity research and development and for regional cybersecurity centers.

The trade group could support some new regulation on a "case-by-case basis," Bond added.

But just hours after the TechAmerica briefing, CEOs of two major cybersecurity vendors said some new regulation may be necessary.

John Jack, president and CEO of Fortify Software, and Philippe Courtot, chairman and CEO of Qualys, both suggested the U.S. government could come up with broad standards that private industry should follow.

The government should not mandate specific technologies but it could act as a "catalyst to show the way," said Jack, speaking at the Fortify Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government could also "elevate the bar" for IT vendors by enforcing security standards, but creating effective legislation would be difficult, Courtot added.

"The problem is that the technology is moving so fast," he said. "It's easy to say, it's harder to do."

Also speaking at the summit, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged cybersecurity vendors to secure data but not lock it down so tightly that it is useless.

The U.S., in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, locked down airplane travel and foreign visas so tightly that many foreign students were discouraged from coming to U.S. universities, he said.

With IT security, organizations still need to use data. Cybersecurity needs to serve organizations' operational needs, he said.

"We need to do security in a reasonable way," Powell said.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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