Experts: Gov't needs to spend more on cyber R&D

Money is also needed for cybersecurity education programs, a group of experts say

The U.S. government needs to spend more money on cybersecurity research and development and on education programs in order to fight a rising tide of attacks against government and private groups, cybersecurity experts told U.S. lawmakers.

The U.S. government has a 2009 R&D budget of about $143 billion, and only about $300 million will go to cybersecurity research, said Liesyl Franz, vice president of information security and global public policy at TechAmerica, a trade group. Funding for cybersecurity R&D and for training security professionals "requires immediate and sustained attention," she told the House of Representatives Research and Science Education Subcommittee Wednesday.

Franz told lawmakers that there needs to be more formal ways that private industry can work with the government on cybersecurity research. Private organizations are generally asked about a project in the last stages of development, she said.

The U.S. government also needs to pump more money into the training of cybersecurity professionals because there aren't enough available to fight the growing problems with data theft, added Anita D'Amico, director of the secure decisions division at Applied Visions, a Northport, New York, software developer. The U.S. government also needs to launch a marketing campaign to make the general public better understand cybersecurity risks, she said.

"We need to improve the decisions of a lot of people, not just security specialists," she said. "We much teach programmers to make secure decisions. Home users need to be educated about the risks of their Internet before they click on the interesting ad. Students need to learn the ethics of using computers for entertainment and online socializing."

But more money for cybersecurity R&D and for education programs may not be enough, said Seymour Goodman, a professor of international affairs and computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. With millions of new wireless devices coming online in the near future, there will be major new cybersecurity risks, he said.

Congress may need to pass new laws mandating cybersecurity efforts by the private sector, he said. "Market forces have failed to provide the nation with a level of cybersecurity adequate for its needs," he said.

Goodman suggested that software companies should face "heightened liability" for vulnerabilties. "Security has not been a major design consideration," he said. "When things go wrong, they usually are not the people who suffer the consequences. Much of cyber defense is pushed on the end users."

Some subcommittee Republicans questioned the need for new cybersecurity regulations. "It seems to me that the government hasn't done that good of a job itself of governing its own needs," said Representative Vernon Ehlers, a Michigan Republican.

Franz suggested the government might get better results through cybersecurity incentives instead of regulations. Congress could pass laws to give breached companies lawsuit protections if they took preventative steps, or it could pass tax breaks for businesses to invest in cybersecurity, she said.

Goodman acknowledged that it's difficult for the government and cybersecurity experts to get people to pay attention to online risks. "The threat for most users ... is so remote, it is so abstract," he said. "Any kind of threat is out in oblivion someplace."

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