Heightened U.S. Cyber Diplomacy Could Aid Businesses

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By Daniel R. Stoller

The U.S. government should lead in setting international cybersecurity standards to help American companies defend against restrictive policies abroad, former U.S. officials told Bloomberg Law.

Such policies hurt U.S. companies operating internationally, including in China and Russia. Consequences can include intellectual property theft, corporate espionage, business growth blockades, and restrictive digital access standards.

Other countries, especially those in the developing world, “are on the brink” of enacting their own cybersecurity frameworks, Christopher Painter, former lead cybersecurity diplomat at the State Department, said at an international cybersecurity policy event at the Center for Strategic & International Studies April 25. It would “be stupid for the U.S. to not engage with these countries because” others will fill the gap, he said.

The lack of U.S. involvement could drive other countries to set the agenda on international cybersecurity, Painter said.

U.S. businesses could face hindered “corporate innovation” without the government’s involvement in cybersecurity diplomacy, Andrea Limbago, former senior technical lead at the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, told Bloomberg Law. “The U.S. needs to lead by example and progress domestic standards and then push those globally through cooperative international forums,” said Limbargo, chief social scientist at cybersecurity protection company Endgame, in Arlington, Va.

The U.S. absence could lead to a patchwork of laws and regulations worldwide, said Tommy Ross, senior director for policy at trade group BSA | The Software Alliance, who previously worked as an Obama administration Defense Department official and defense and intelligence adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

International Threats

Among the restrictive cybersecurity standards U.S. companies could face are the lack of access to data within certain countries that impacts their international competitiveness.

“If America isn’t involved in international cybersecurity policy discussions, then rule-setting will be dominated by the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians,” which have been U.S. adversaries in cyberspace, Steve Bucci, former military assistant to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, told Bloomberg Law. These countries use a heavy-handed approach, including corporate espionage, to benefit companies in their own nations, said Bucci, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation focusing on cybersecurity and defense policy.

For example, the Chinese government has allegedly been implicated in corporate espionage incidents and IP theft, Bucci said.

The U.S., however, hasn’t stayed silent on international cybersecurity policy and has pushed back when a foreign nation’s laws or actions have hurt U.S. corporate interests, Limbago said.

“The U.S. has numerous efforts related to international standards underway,” such as the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s internet of things framework, Limbago said. NIST also has been developing its cybersecurity framework since February 2014. It further added to its framework April 16.

The government “has similarly been involved in efforts to shape global cybersecurity norms pertaining to the appropriate behavior in cyberspace,” such as at the United Nations Governmental Experts on Information Security’s cybersecurity norms, Limbago said.

The U.S. has reached deals with China to limit corporate espionage incidents. The U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, in addition to other G-7 and G-20 countries, have signed accords with China to limit the future use of cyber corporate espionage.

These deals, and other international cooperation on cybersecurity, are a signal “of political commitment,” Painter said. There has been more international cooperation on “shared threats,” such as the WannaCry ransomware attack and the NotPetya cyberattack, he said.

Work It Out

The U.S. government should first work out cybersecurity policy norms with American companies, former officials said. The U.S. won’t have much of a voice in international policy if companies disagree on cybersecurity norms, they said.

The U.S. “needs to have a national conversation on cybersecurity policy before sending forth diplomats,” Bucci said. A consensus on domestic policy is needed because “it is a little tough to argue in a big international meeting,” he said.

The private sector has pushed international cybersecurity norms that would likely benefit companies and U.S. policy interests. BSA released April 25 an international cybersecurity framework that is “rooted in public-private collaboration.” Cybersecurity policy norms, like the BSA model, seek input from government and private-sector stakeholders and cover high-level national security standards to consumer-based cyber hygiene practices.

Private-sector cybersecurity standards are beneficial, but businesses need to also “depend on the U.S. government to play a strong leadership role in the international community in advocating a consensus-based, consistent, and effective international system,” Ross said.

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