Cybersecurity Collaboration

The Theory Of Intersectionality Can Make Cybersecurity Collaboration Real

Symbolically, the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection was about the White House reaching out to Silicon Valley and the need for collaboration between government, and the manufacturing, finance, and technology industries.

Substantively, the President signed an Executive Order to encourage the sharing of cyber threat information.

Government outreach efforts often talk about collaboration and working together but usually in a vague, aspirational, kumbaya kind of way. However, for cybersecurity the need for collaboration is pragmatic and pressing.

The ubiquity and power of information technology means that the biggest security risks exist at the intersection of disciplines and communities. Collaboration is the only way to mitigate these risks.

An intersectional perspective allows us to better understand why certain cyber attacks occur and are so damaging.

The recent attacks on Sony have accelerated the Obama administration’s efforts on cybersecurity. But why was the Sony attack such an unmitigated disaster for the moviemaker?

The damage occurred at the intersection of the actions of a sophisticated hacking group (or ‘advanced persistent threat’); poor cybersecurity practices by Sony; the leaking of damaging private corporate data; the use of terrorist threats to block the release of “The Interview” and the incompetent responses from Sony (including canceling then digitally releasing the movie, threats to sue Twitter and an alleged denial of service attack on servers hosting Sony’s leaked data).

While this was definitely a cyber attack, it was also an international relations incident, a state sponsored terrorist attack on freedom of expression, and an example of Hollywood being ridiculous.

The attack and its fallout could absolutely have been mitigated if Sony had a better IT department. But Sony would also have benefited from better leadership, a less toxic corporate culture and a crisis management team with the ability to call on government support.

Other factors beyond Sony’s control also played a critical role in this attack including, a poor relationship between the United States and China on cybersecurity, a lack of international protocols for dealing with cyberattacks and limited means for the United States to impose further political costs on North Korea.

Sony was on the receiving end of a sophisticated attack but simple attacks can also have outsized impact when they occur at the right set of intersections.

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