Analysts at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center prepare for an exercise

Analysts at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center prepare for an exercise J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Obama's Power To Set Cybersecurity Standards Is Limited

For the last three years, President Obama has been unable to get a cybersecurity bill through Congress. By Matthew Cooper

As President Obama readies to strike the Syrian regime, it's worth thinking about that other defense problem--cybersecurity--and what it says about Washington in the Obama era.

On Wednesday, the capital will be consumed by the March on Washington, as well it ought, and the looming battle with Syria--although not at the same time, for surely the missiles won't fly at the very moment Obama salutes nonviolence.

But the country's efforts to beef up cybersecurity are stymied, even after thefts at the National Security Agency and the Army have made Edward Snowden and Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning emblems of computer vulnerability. This week shows why.

On Wednesday, while the marchers march and the Pentagon plans, a federal agency in Maryland called theNational Institute for Standards and Technology will be issuing a draft report for cybersecurity standards--basically a list of best practices for businesses and other institutions to follow as they try to protect their networks.

NIST, as it's called, is the much-admired scientific agency that runs the atomic clock and comes up with standards for everything from weights and measures to medical devices. It doesn't regulate, but it's been around in some form since the early days of the Republic and its word is listened to closely by industry and government.

For the last three years, Congress has been unable to come up with a cybersecurity bill that the president could sign. And to be fair, it's been over honest disagreements rather than raw obstructionism, such as filibuster abuse. The House has passed a bill with overwhelming GOP support and a considerable number of Democrats that would enable information sharing between companies and the government in an effort to shut down hackers. Opponents on the left and right have offered up civil-liberties arguments, saying that's a license to abuse private data. Throw in some classic questions about corporate liability and you have a stalemate--but at least the old-fashioned kind built around ideas (and lobbying of course), rather than gun-to-the-head threats like the debt ceiling.

The cyber stalement is why the president issued an executive order earlier this year asking NIST to come up with a voluntary framework for reducing cyber risks to critical infrastructure. (His order also opened up more information sharing in the government.) And so the agency's worked diligently on it and will issue best practices tomorrow. But while they would certainly improve security if acted on, none of them are likely to provide the degree of protection that can only be afforded by legislative action, nor does anyone expect them to. One insider calls them "no brainers," likening them to use-a-secure-password bromides. (You can read more about where NIST is planning here and about the legislative stalemate here.) Whether you believe in the House bill's information-sharing approach or a heavier regulatory regime, everyone's pretty much agreed that NIST isn't enough.

And this is where it comes back to Obama. For those who think a president has extraordinary executive powers to lead, here's a case where he's pretty much tapped out. The problem is grave enough that Congress may eventually give the president something that he's willing to sign. Until then this is about the best he can do--a conspicuous limitation of presidential power in a week where he's likely to flex his strongest muscles by making speeches and making war.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.