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White House Releases Comprehensive Cyberspace Policy

The seven-pronged "International Strategy for Cyberspace" is the federal government's first stab at a comprehensive, integrated cyberspace strategy.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The White House has released its first ever comprehensive cyberspace strategy, centered around seven key policy priorities that aim to foster a more open, interoperable, secure, and reliable cyberspace through engagement across government, internationally, and with the private sector.

At a White House event to release the document Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to the document as an "integrated, whole of government approach" that "articulates for the first time the principles that will guide" the U.S. government's crosscutting cyberspace-related efforts.

Clinton iterated that the document, "International Strategy for Cyberspace," contains no silver bullet for U.S. cyber challenges, but said that a broad strategy is key to presenting a unified front on cyberspace policy. "We can't continue to have stove-piped discussions," she said. "Too often, the international discussions we have deal with each of these priorities separately. We are not dealing with these issues internationally in a coordinated, integrated fashion."

Speaking alongside other top administration officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn, Clinton said that the seven policy principles represent sweeping principles rather than detailed prescriptions. Nonetheless, the White House said that the Obama administration would assess its progress within 180 days.

The first priority laid out in the document deals with economic engagement. That entails supporting free trade on the Internet while at the same time protecting international property, including commercial trade secrets, from theft.

"Protecting our networks" is another top priority. For example, the strategy says that the United States will seek to promote cooperation on cyberspace behavioral norms for nation states via multilateral and multinational organizations and partnerships. This piece also includes strengthening U.S. government and private sector network security and high-tech supply chain security.

Law enforcement is the next priority. This includes helping to develop international cybercrime policy, focus U.S. cybercrime laws on combating illegal activities rather than restricting Internet access, and working to ensure terrorists and other criminals don't use the Internet to plan, finance, or carry out attacks.

The military also plays a role in the strategy. Military alliances are a big piece of the military plans. "There is a strong logic to collective cyber defense," Lynn said at the White House event. "Far greater cooperation is needed if we want to stay ahead of the cyber threat." Separately, the Department of Defense is planning to issue a comprehensive strategy for operating in cyberspace.

Internet governance gets a nod in the strategy document as well. That means using the country's Internet governance policy levers to prioritize openness and innovation, ensure the security of the Domain Name System, and promote and enhance venues for discussing Internet governance with the larger international community.

Another piece of the strategy is international development, which is particularly focused on bolstering other nations' capacities to help themselves, whether it be via training and education, sharing technical and cybersecurity advice and best practices, or training law enforcement and others in an effort to better fight cybercrime. White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt said at the event that the White House would soon be sharing new information on the progress of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, an inter-governmental cyber education effort.

The final piece to the strategy puzzle is the fostering of Internet freedom and privacy. "While the Internet offers new ways for people to exercise their political rights, it also gives government new tools for clamping down dissent," Clinton said, hinting at recent efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere to use the Internet both as a tool of freedom and repression. Clinton's State Department has made Internet freedom one of its top priorities.


Join InformationWeek Government for a virtual event on cybersecurity best practices and government IT. It happens May 25. Download it here. (Free with registration.)

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