American Elephants

Obama, Ill-Conceived Executive Orders, And The Internet. by The Elephant's Child

On Tuesday, before 4:20 p.m., the White House emailed reporters that President Obama had signed a highly anticipated Executive Order aimed at protecting cyber security. The order is aimed at setting up new programs aimed at stopping online espionage and terrorism, was embargoed until after the State of the Union speech was delivered. The White House summary of the Executive Order is here.

The Heritage Foundation’s “The Foundry’ suggests that based on drafts that circulated, the executive order is apt to be highly flawed in its efforts to impose regulations on the dynamic cyber realm. It is a poor policy choice. Obama, the Foundry suggests, seems set on burning bridges with Congress by circumventing them on this issue.

The House easily passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which was designed to improve the sharing of information on cyber threats and vulnerabilities. The Senate and the administration insisted the cybersecurity regulations be the main feature of any bill. Many Senators thought regulations might actually hurt security, and impose large costs, encourage compliance, and failed to pass a regulatory bill. They wisely decided that regulation was not the way to go.

The president intends to go around Congress if they won’t pass what he wants them to. The Supreme Court, in the past, has indicated that laws are to come from Congress, that is their Constitutional function, and the White House does not get to make law. There’s a reason why the Constitution does not give that function to the Executive. Obama has made it clear that he has no respect for the constitutional separation of powers. Will this come to a showdown? Or will the new “regulations” subject us to an even worse attack, with no courageous group of computer geeks to take up the digital sword to defend us.?

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s 2011 book: WORM: The First Digital World War. The Conficker worm infected its first computer in November 2008. Within a month, it had infiltrated 1.5 million computers in 195 countries. Banks, telecommunications companies and critical government networks, including the British Parliament and the French ad German military were infected. By January 2009, Conficker lay hidden  in at least eight million computers, and the botnet of linked machines it had created was so large that an attack might crash the entire world internet, with unimaginable consequences.

Mark Bowden, of Black Hawk Down fame, has written of a gifted group of hackers, researchers, millionaire Internet entrepreneurs and computer security experts who took on the task of confronting the threat, tracking it down, and defending the world. He has managed to take the unintelligible world of computer language and turn it into a gripping tale of espionage and defenders in the first digital world war. There is, thank God, an extensive glossary, and a cast of characters (volunteers all), a great help to one whose eyes glaze over when the brilliant post I’m in the middle of crashes, amid cries of “help.” It’s a great read, and as compelling as any thriller.

The book also makes it crystal clear just why Congress was correct to refuse to pass a regulatory bill and why the President is completely wrong, and has undoubtedly damaged the security of the computer world. I recommend WORM highly.


2 Comments so far
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So what is in that order? How does one make a judgement of something if one does not know what it looks like? I once had a neighbor that did not like another neighbor across the street. The one neighbor never passed up a chance to gossip to me about the neighbor across the street. Of course this neighbor could never give me the details. He expected me to be a fool and take his word for it.


Comment by Mark Baird

If you follow the links in the article, you will learn what is in the order. You have to read the whole thing before you start arguing, Mark. The book I recommend really explains the cybersecurity problem, makes it intelligible to non-geeks, and is a fascinating read. The problem with government regulation is 1). the one-size fits all idea. It’s impossible to make regulations that are not over broad. 2), A government bureaucracy is slow moving, rule-ridden and without initiative. Coping with a cyber attack is just the opposite. Requires speed, initiative, quick thinking Just the opposite of heavy handed govenrment.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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