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Presidential candidates quiet on cyber policy

Obama and Romney differences aired by analysts, not so much by one another

By Taylor Armerding, CSO
October 11, 2012 07:15 AM ET

CSO - Federal cyber policy didn't come up during the first presidential debate. It likely won't come up in the next two either. But issues ranging from cybersecurity to privacy to regulation ought to be on the debate agenda, because there are some differences between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

If politicians were tech companies

Not that many in the information technology (IT) world are eager to talk about it. J. Nicholas Hoover wrote last week about six technology policy differences between the candidates in InformationWeek, in advance of a cloud computing conference next week. And the Information Technology and Innovation Forum (ITIF) published a white paper last month, titled "Comparing the 2012 Presidential Candidates' Technology and Innovation Policies."

Most security experts contacted by CSO Online declined to comment, saying they were "uncomfortable" with the topic, were trying to avoid direct comparisons between the candidates, were not aware of the positions taken by either one, couldn't comment in a balanced way or didn't want to be perceived as endorsing either one.

However, there was no such hesitation from Jody Westby, CEO of Global Cyber Risk, one of the few willing to comment. She said Obama, "has barely given more than lip service to cybersecurity. His 'cyber czar' does not report to him and Obama has issued fewer advisories on cybersecurity than the former President, Bush.

[In depth: Five must-do cybersecurity steps for Obama]

"The fact is, no one since President Clinton has given the Internet the attention that it deserves, focused on the contributions of the IT sector to the U.S. and global economy, and provided leadership on addressing the worsening state of cybersecurity," Westby said. "This issue is wide open for Romney and is one where he could assert U.S. leadership, significantly protect U.S. companies and change the dynamic with cybercrime."

Joel Harding, a retired military intelligence officer and information operations expert, wrote on his blog To Inform is to Influence: "Not only is there no coherent strategy for cyber defense at the national level, the old D.C. two-step shuffle is making entire Cabinet Departments ... useless."

He noted Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's recent announcement that she doesn't even use email, said another department had been "gutted," while another is "practically rudderless when it comes to actually doing the coordination, staffing and leading cyber efforts."

"Our political system has rendered the United States effectively to be cyber eunuchs," Harding wrote.

The ITIF was relatively low-key and even-handed in its compliments and criticisms. In general, the white paper authors, Stephen J. Ezell, Robert D. Atkinson, Daniel D. Castro, Richard Bennett, Matthew Stepp, faulted both candidates for being too narrow in their approach.

"Rather than adopt an 'all of the above' approach to innovation policy that includes corporate tax and regulatory reform as well as increased federal investment in research and development (R&D), digital infrastructure, and skills, the candidates stress policies from 'each column,' with Gov. Romney focusing more on the former and President Obama more on the latter. This is unfortunate," the paper said.

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