One of my favorite obscure websites takes the form of a simple questionnaire that answers the question posed by its URL, WillUsingThePrefixCyberMakeMeLookLikeAnIdiot.com.
I thought of this site this morning when I read that the Obama administration plans to establish what The Washington Post describes as "a new agency to combat the deepening threat from cyberattacks."
According to the Post, the past few years have seen "a series of significant cyber-incidents" affecting "U.S. companies and government networks, [and] increasing the profile of the threat for policymakers and industries." The agency's task, the Post reports, "will be to fuse intelligence from around the government when a crisis occurs.
Lisa Monaco, a presidential adviser on counterterrorism, will announce the new agency, dubbed the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, in a speech today.
Here's how she explained the administration's decision to create the new agency: "The cyberthreat is one of the greatest threats we face, and policymakers and operators will benefit from having a rapid source of intelligence," she told the Post. "It will help ensure that we have the same integrated, all-tools approach to the cyberthreat that we have developed to combat terrorism."
So I got to wondering: Is this an acceptable, non-idiotic use of the prefix "cyber"? There was only one way to find out. I called up WillUsingThePrefixCyberMakeMeLookLikeAnIdiot.com and plugged in Monaco's likely answers.
Question number one: Are you a science fiction author? No, though I suppose it's possible that Monaco secretly dabbles in anonymous Star Trek fanfic or something.
Question number two: Are you about to use IM to talk dirty to someone? Again, not that I know of. I'm not aware of any stories of government officials spending time making online sexy talk, although there was the EPA employee who looked at porn all day. But we'll assume the answer is no.
Question number three: Are you using "cyber" to replace the word "computer" or "network" for a bad or nonexistent reason? (E.g. "cybersecurity" instead of "network security.") Actually, yeah, kind of. Now that you mention it. It's definitely in the zone of "bad or nonexistent." We'll go with yes on this one.
Question number four: Are you using the term to saber-rattle and/or fear-monger in order to secure funding for your corner of the military industrial complex? I suppose one could argue that the center's title should be exempt because cyber is used as a word and not a prefix, but that seems a little silly. (If anything, promoting cyber to its own word is even worse.) There's really no point in arguing here. This is definitely a yes.
I put all these responses in, and here's the answer I got: "Actually, you will probably not look like an idiot to the credulous legislators you're bullying into handing you money. But the rest of us think you're a dangerous moron."
This answer seems directed more at contractors and defense department project managers, but otherwise it seems more or less on target in its basic sentiment.
And, in fact, the Post's report indicates that, as the answer I got suggests, some security bureaucrats love it, but other folks think the idea is dumb:
"It's a great idea," said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official. "It's overdue."
Others question why a new agency is needed when the government already has several dedicated to monitoring and analyzing cyberthreat data. The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Security Agency all have cyber-operations centers, and the FBI and the NSA are able to integrate information, noted Melissa Hathaway, a former White House cybersecurity coordinator and president of Hathaway Global Strategies.
"We should not be creating more organizations and bureaucracy," she said. "We need to be forcing the existing organizations to become more effective — hold them accountable."
Indeed, given the dramatic rise in federal data* security breaches over the past several years, the government might consider getting its existing house in order before building an addition.
*See? I didn't have to say "cyber."