Collaboration Seen as Missing Link in Cybersecurity

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A global survey of top government officials and business leaders has unearthed considerable anxiety about the threat of cyberattacks, with only negligible minorities saying that the public and private sectors share information about threats as effectively as they need to.

Just 4 percent of government officials and 1 percent of business leaders rated the cybersecurity coordination efforts in their countries "excellent," according to the EastWest Institute, which released the survey to coincide with the Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit it is hosting this week in Dallas.

That event will provide a forum for industry executives, technical experts and government security officials from 40 nations to discuss the cybersecurity challenge in an effort to bring the global community a step closer to a multilateral framework for dealing with 21st-century digital threats that defy traditional rules of engagement.

"Nations have well-established rules of the game on land, sea, air and in outer space," the organization said in describing the conference's purpose. "There is a significant lack of such rules in the fifth common domain -- cyberspace."

Among the attendees from the United States are Howard Schmidt, President Obama's cybersecurity coordinator, Melissa Hathaway, the former government official who spearheaded Obama's comprehensive security review last year, and National Security Advisor James Jones.

They have their work cut out for them. In addition to the coordination issues -- both between the government and private sector of one country and across national borders -- the survey highlighted the severity of the threat.

Among both business and government respondents, 48 percent deemed the security threat "profound" and worsening.

Just 29 percent of government officials described their systems as "very secure," while 22 percent of business leaders said the same about their own operations.

When asked to evaluate each other's security, those figures plunged dramatically. Just 4 percent of government officials described the businesses in their country as very secure. In corollary, only 8 percent of business leaders said the same about their country's government systems.

For John Edwin Mroz, president and CEO of the EastWest Institute, the results underscored the disconnect between the public and private sectors.

"This survey demonstrates how much more we need to do to implement policies that keep pace with the breakneck speed of technological advances," Mroz said in a statement. "We need private-public partnerships and we need international cooperation to make cyberspace safe and secure."

Facilitating coordination between government agencies and businesses has been a central pillar of the efforts of administration officials and some lawmakers to reform the federal approach to cybersecurity. Much of Schmidt's job is to serve as a White House liaison to the private sector. Having served as a top security officer at both Microsoft and eBay and in several administrations as a high-ranking official, Schmidt is considered by many to be uniquely qualified for the job.

But his role, and that of his counterparts in countries like India, Russia and China who are converging on Dallas this week for the EastWest conference, necessarily does not stop at the border. The survey hinted at the diplomatic repercussions that could follow in the absence of a coherent approach to cybersecurity, with 67 percent of government officials saying they expect "deteriorating relations, angry recriminations and growing distrust among countries" if the major nations aren't able to establish effective policies.

"These results point to an urgent need to build trust, not only between countries, but also between governments and businesses on a global level," Mroz said.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.