Cyberdefense: A New Frontier of Public-Private Cooperation

social media on smartphonesThe threat of advanced cyberattacks on the United States is reshaping the role of cyberdefense cooperation between the public and private sectors. According to a new report, published by the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity and Technology for Global Security, the U.S. government does not own or operate “most of the technological infrastructure of cyberspace.” As such, both sectors must collaborate in order enhance the U.S. capacity “to counter incoming cyberattacks on the nation.”

While such cooperation is desirable in theory, there are many challenges that prevent effective public-private joint cyberdefense activities in practice. Of particular importance is the case of intelligence disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, whose actions severely compromised cooperation between the U.S. government and technology companies. Additionally, the backlash resulting from publicized cooperation of Google and Microsoft with the Defense Department led to further deterioration of trust between the public and private sectors. Both cases emphasize the role of public opinions in creating narratives surrounding corporate involvement in public-private cooperation against advanced cyber threats. Similarly, corporate leaders play a significant role in “navigating security policy issues, setting narratives, and shaping perceptions regarding cooperation, violence, and the use of force.”

In addressing these issues, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Both sectors should prioritize security planning and develop a shared understanding of the cyberthreat;
  • Technology companies should identify clear terms of service for cyberdefense operations;
  • Companies should design public strategies for cyberdefence cooperation with governments;
  • U.S. government should nominate a leader of the Enduring Security Framework (ESF) to further public-private cyberdefense planning and cooperation; and
  • The government must accept legal responsibility to defend national interests without placing unnecessary risks on the private sector.

Given the existing obstacles in public-private cooperation, this report aims to provide meaningful pathways to enhance the United States’ collective cyberdefence. Significantly, the recent impacts of foreign interference, including the 2016 Russian cyberspace influence operations, emphasize the critical need for collective action to protect the U.S. national interests.

For more information, visit the HSDL Featured Topics on Cyber Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Crime & National Security. Please note that an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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