Creating a National Framework for Cybersecurity: An Analysis of Issues and Options

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, concerns had been rising among security experts about the vulnerabilities to attack of computer systems and associated infrastructure. Yet, despite increasing attention from federal and state governments and international organizations, the defense against attacks on these systems has appeared to be generally fragmented and varying widely in effectiveness. Concerns have grown that what is needed is a national cybersecurity framework -- a coordinated, coherent set of public- and private-sector efforts required to ensure an acceptable level of cybersecurity for the nation. As commonly used, cybersecurity refers to three things: measures to protect information technology; the information it contains, processes, and transmits, and associated physical and virtual elements (which together comprise cyberspace ); the degree of protection resulting from application of those measures; and the associated field of professional endeavor. Virtually any element of cyberspace can be at risk, and the degree of interconnection of those elements can make it difficult to determine the extent of the cybersecurity framework that is needed. Identifying the major weaknesses in U.S. cybersecurity is an area of some controversy. However, some components appear to be sources of potentially significant risk because either major vulnerabilities have been identified or substantial impacts could result from a successful attack. -- in particular, components that play critical roles in elements of critical infrastructure, widely used commercial software, organizational governance, and the level of public knowledge and perception about cybersecurity. There are several options for broadly addressing weaknesses in cybersecurity . They include adopting standards and certification, promulgating best practices and guidelines, using benchmarks and checklists, use of auditing, improving training and education, building security into enterprise architecture, using risk management, and using metrics. These different approaches all have different strengths and weaknesses with respect to how they might contribute to the development of a national framework for cybersecurity. None of them are likely to be widely adopted in the absence of sufficient economic incentives for cybersecurity. Many observers believe that cyberspace has too many of the properties of a commons for market forces alone to provide those incentives. Also, current federal laws, regulations, and public-private partnerships appear to be much narrower in scope than the policies called for in the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and similar documents. Some recent laws do provide regulatory incentives for corporate management to address cybersecurity issues. Potential models for additional action include the response to the year-2000 computer problem and federal safety and environmental regulations. Congress might consider encouraging the widespread adoption of cybersecurity standards and best practices, procurement leveraging by the federal government, mandatory reporting of incidents, the use of product liability actions, the development of cybersecurity insurance, and strengthened federal cybersecurity programs in the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere. This report will be updated in response to significant developments in cybersecurity.