What Is the National Cybersecurity Strategy? What the Biden Administration Has Changed

In a groundbreaking move, the new cybersecurity strategy says that while no product is totally secure, the administration will work with Congress and the private sector to prevent companies from being shielded from liability claims over the security of their products. These products underpin most of modern society.

Removing that legal shield is likely to encourage companies to make security a priority in their product development cycles and have a greater stake in the reliability of their products beyond the point of sale.

In another noteworthy shift, the strategy observes that end users bear too great a burden for mitigating cybersecurity risks. It states that a collaborative approach to cybersecurity and resiliency “cannot rely on the constant vigilance of our smallest organizations and individual citizens.” It stresses the importance of manufacturers of critical computer systems, as well as companies that operate them, in taking a greater role in improving the security of their products. It also suggests expanded regulation toward that goal may be forthcoming.

Interestingly, the strategy places great emphasis on the threat from ransomware as the most pressing cybercrime facing the U.S. at all levels of government and business. It now calls ransomware a national security threat and not simply a criminal matter.

Backstopping Cyber Insurance
The new strategy also directs the federal government to consider taking on some responsibility for so-called cybersecurity insurance.

Here, the administration wants to ensure that insurance companies are adequately funded to respond to claims following a significant or catastrophic cybersecurity incident. Since 2020, the market for cybersecurity-related insurance has grown nearly 75%, and organizations of all sizes consider such policies necessary.

This is understandable given how many companies and government agencies are reliant on the internet and corporate networks to conduct daily operations. By protecting, or “backstopping,” cybersecurity insurers, the administration hopes to prevent a major systemic financial crisis for insurers and victims during a cybersecurity incident.

However, cybersecurity insurance should not be treated as a free pass for complacency. Thankfully, insurers now often require policyholders to prove they are following best cybersecurity practices before approving a policy. This helps protect them from issuing policies that are likely to face claims arising from gross negligence by policyholders.

Looking Forward
In addition to dealing with present concerns, the strategy also makes a strong case for ensuring the U.S. is prepared for the future. It speaks about fostering technology research that can improve or introduce cybersecurity in such fields as artificial intelligence, critical infrastructure and industrial control systems.

The strategy specifically warns that the U.S. must be prepared for a “post-quantum future” where emerging technologies could render existing cybersecurity controls vulnerable. This includes current encryption systems that could be broken by future quantum computers.

Where the Strategy Falls Short
While the National Cybersecurity Strategy calls for continuing to expand information-sharing related to cybersecurity, it pledges to review federal classification policy to see where additional classified access to information is necessary.

The federal government already suffers from overclassification, so if anything, I believe less classification of cybersecurity information is needed to facilitate better information-sharing on this issue. It’s important to reduce administrative and operational obstacles to effective and timely interaction, especially where collaborative relationships are needed between industry, academia and federal and state governments. Excessive classification is one such challenge.

Further, the strategy does not address the use of cyber tactics, techniques and procedures in influence or disinformation campaigns and other actions that might target the U.S. This omission is perhaps intentional because, although cybersecurity and influence operations are often intertwined, reference to countering influence operations could lead to partisan conflicts over freedom of speech and political activity. Ideally, the National Cybersecurity Strategy should be apolitical.

That being said, the 2023 National Cybersecurity Strategy is a balanced document. While in many ways it reiterates recommendations made since the first National Cybersecurity Strategy in 2002, it also provides some innovative ideas that could strengthen U.S. cybersecurity in meaningful ways and help modernize America’s technology industry, both now and into the future.

Richard Forno is Principal Lecturer in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation.