A Conservative Vision for Cybersecurity (Part I of IV) by Austen D. Givens

A Conservative Vision for Cybersecurity (Part I of IV) by Austen D. Givens

In January of 2016 I provided a conservative vision for addressing cybersecurity challenges in the post-Obama era before the James Sherman Society at Utica College. That vision emphasized four key points. I will now systematically revisit the first of these four points to assess whether or not they remain realistic or viable.

In January 2016 the race for the Republican presidential nomination was wide open. It still included candidates such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Ted Cruz. And it was far from clear that Donald Trump would be the eventual GOP nominee, let alone be elected President.

Point 1: The United States should develop a powerful cyber deterrent capability against nations like China, Iran, and Russia.

The Trump administration has thus far sent inconsistent signals about the strategic defense approaches that it will take toward U.S. adversaries like China, Iran, and Russia. These mixed signals suggest that the Trump may not prioritize the development of a strong cyber deterrent.

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump assailed China for what he viewed as its unfair trade and currency manipulation practices. Yet President Trump is now taking a more textured approach to U.S.-Chinese relations. He is softening diplomatic interactions toward China, while also appointing China trade hawk Peter Navarro to a senior administration post. These early moves suggest the administration will take a pragmatic, nuanced approach to defense issues vis-a-vis China.  

The White House has demonstrated that it will be decidedly more hawkish on Iran than the Obama administration. For example, in January Iran test-launched a medium-range ballistic missile from its territory, and within days the U.S. government leveled new economic sanctions against businesses and individuals linked to the Iranian regime. President Trump has also made clear his displeasure with the Iranian nuclear deal (formally, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). With respect to Iran, then, it is fair to assume that we will see strong efforts to deter cyber attacks.

The Trump administration—and most Congressional Republicans—are reluctant to investigate or sanction the Kremlin for its interference in the 2016 Presidential election. That does not bode well for the U.S. government’s approach to Russian cyber aggression during the next four years. It is worth pointing out that select Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have each made forceful public statements against Russian aggression and in support of traditional defense alliances, such as NATO. Still, at this point, it is hard to envision the White House acting decisively against future Russian cyber intrusions.

NEXT TIME . . .  how the Trump administration may choose to retaliate against state and non state-sponsored cyber attacks.

 

Austen D. Givens is Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Utica College.

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