October is Cyber Security Awareness Month and official Washington seems a little too aware. Fleeting references to cyber security were made by both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney in the course of Monday's third presidential debate. The issue remains a hot topic with members of Congress fearful of America's vulnerability to cyber attacks and acts of terrorism.
In August, Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn) Cyber Security Act 2012 failed to move past a filibuster after Republican opposition on the grounds that proposed security standards would lead to costly regulations for businesses. Despite this stumbling block, Congress and the Obama administration are said to be continuing with a "race" to establish cyber security standards for what it deems 'critical infrastructure providers.'
A White House executive order dealing with the issue is likely to instruct federal agencies, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to enforce mandatory standards upon the companies they regulate.
Lieberman suggests that "some of them will be forced to spend some more money than they otherwise are spending now to defend themselves." Such executive orders and legislation won't just regulate businesses behavior; they will also enable the extensive collection, monitoring, and use of personal data by both the regulated businesses involved and the Department of Homeland Security, amongst a network of other government agencies.
The use of an executive order to mandate such actions is a particularly scary prospect considering the upcoming elections. Romney has stayed fairly quiet on the issue of cyber security, but his election white paper commits to updating the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the Bush-era legislation which granted the National Security Agency approval to wiretap Americans without the need for a warrant. Though the Romney white paper lacks specific details as to how Romney plans to update this he does continue to push for a 'much more coordinated effort' by the intelligence agencies and government departments. He's apparently not been deterred by the failure of the hugely expensive, highly intrusive and wholly ineffective "fusion centers" that wasted billions of dollars creating networks of intelligence-gathering that actively invaded citizen's privacy whilst failing to report or uncover any terrorist activities.