President Joe Biden declared in mid-December, more than a month before he took office, that cyber security would be a “top priority” of his administration.
It should be. The digital world, as we are all now reminded daily, has a direct impact on the real world, for better and worse. It provides conveniences and powers that were the stuff of sci-fi dreams only a generation ago, but it also generates threats to privacy, physical safety, and personal, corporate, and national security.
And 100 days into his first term, which marks the end of the so-called honeymoon period for a new president, Biden has made a start on assembling a team, responding to at least some foreign attacks, and building a strategy.
But as any elected official knows, making promises is the easy part. Delivering on them can get difficult and complicated. That is especially true when it comes to this issue. If the president succeeds in moving the cyber security needle in a substantive way, he’ll be the first.
Not that his predecessors didn’t try. Biden inherits a pile of executive orders and initiatives from every U.S. president since Bill Clinton, starting with Clinton’s National Plan for Information Systems Protection in 2000, labeled “the first-ever national strategy for protecting the nation’s computer networks from deliberate attacks.”
The most recent, under the Trump administration, were December 2018’s proposed “Cybersecurity Moonshot” and then March 2020’s 182-page report from the U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission proposing more than 80 recommendations to implement a strategy of “layered cyber deterrence.”
“What we’re trying to do here is a 9/11 Commission report without 9/11,” Senator Angus King, I-Maine, one of the commission’s two cochairs, told Wired magazine at the time. “We’re trying to solve a problem before it turns into a catastrophe.”
Still, after two decades during which the internet has become as embedded in modern life as the automobile and television, no cyber security expert would describe it as safe and secure, multiple well-intentioned policy initiatives notwithstanding.