AT THE NEXUS OF CYBERSECURITY
AND PUBLIC POLICY
Some Basic Concepts and Issues
David Clark, Thomas Berson, and Herbert S. Lin, Editors
Committee on Developing a Cybersecurity Primer:
Leveraging Two Decades of National Academies Work
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation under Award Number CNS-0940372. Additional support was provided by Microsoft Corporation, Google, Inc., and the President’s Committee of the National Academies.
Any opinions, findings, or conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
COMMITTEE ON DEVELOPING A CYBERSECURITY PRIMER:
LEVERAGING TWO DECADES OF
NATIONAL ACADEMIES WORK
DAVID CLARK, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chair
THOMAS BERSON, Anagram Laboratories
MARJORY BLUMENTHAL,1 Georgetown University
HERBERT S. LIN, Study Director and Chief Scientist, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
ERIC WHITAKER, Senior Program Assistant, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
1 Ms. Blumenthal resigned from the committee on May 1, 2013, and accepted a position as executive director for the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD
ROBERT F. SPROULL, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Chair
LUIZ ANDRÉ BARROSO, Google, Inc.
STEVEN M. BELLOVIN, Columbia University
ROBERT F. BRAMMER, Brammer Technology, LLC
EDWARD FRANK, Apple, Inc.
SEYMOUR E. GOODMAN, Georgia Institute of Technology
LAURA M. HAAS, IBM Alamaden Research Laboratory
MARK A. HOROWITZ, Stanford University
MICHAEL KEARNS, University of Pennsylvania
ROBERT KRAUT, Carnegie Mellon University
SUSAN LANDAU, Google, Inc.
PETER LEE, Microsoft Corporation
DAVID E. LIDDLE, US Venture Partners
BARBARA LISKOV, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JOHN STANKOVIC, University of Virginia
JOHN A. SWAINSON, Dell, Inc.
PETER SZOLOVITS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ERNEST J. WILSON, University of Southern California
KATHERINE YELICK, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
JON EISENBERG, Director
LYNETTE I. MILLETT, Associate Director and Senior Program Officer
VIRGINIA BACON TALATI, Program Officer
SHENAE BRADLEY, Senior Program Assistant
RENEE HAWKINS, Financial and Administrative Manager
HERBERT S. LIN, Chief Scientist
ERIC WHITAKER, Senior Program Assistant
For more information on CSTB, see its Web site at http://www.cstb.org, write to CSTB, National Research Council, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001, call (202) 334-2605, or e-mail the CSTB at email@example.com.
Today, cybersecurity is widely viewed as a matter of pressing national importance. Many elements of cyberspace are notoriously vulnerable to an expanding range of attacks by a spectrum of hackers, criminals, terrorists, and state actors. For example, government agencies and private-sector companies both large and small suffer from cyber thefts of sensitive information, cyber vandalism (e.g., defacing of Web sites), and denial-of-service attacks. The nation’s critical infrastructure, including the electric power grid, air traffic control system, financial systems, and communication networks, depends extensively on information technology for its operation.
Concerns about the vulnerability of the information technology on which the nation relies have deepened in the security-conscious environment after the September 11, 2001, attacks and in light of increased cyber espionage directed at private companies and government agencies in the United States. National policy makers have become increasingly concerned that adversaries backed by considerable resources will attempt to exploit the cyber vulnerabilities in the critical infrastructure, thereby inflicting substantial harm on the nation. Numerous policy proposals have been advanced, and a number of bills have been introduced in Congress to tackle parts of the cybersecurity challenge.
Although the larger public discourse sometimes treats the topic of cybersecurity as a new one, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council has long recognized
cybersecurity as a major challenge for public policy.1 CSTB work in cybersecurity over more than two decades (Box P.1) offers a wealth of information on practical measures, technical and nontechnical challenges, and potential policy responses. Produced by the Committee on Developing a Cybersecurity Primer: Leveraging Two Decades of National Academies Work (see Appendix A), the present report draws on past insights developed in this body of work to provide a concise primer on the fundamentals of cybersecurity and the nexus between cybersecurity and public policy (see Box P.2 for the project’s statement of task).
This report is based primarily on earlier CSTB work (see Appendix B), and for readability, direct extracts from that work are not set in quotation marks, nor are paraphrases from that work identified as such. However, the report also addresses issues not covered in earlier CSTB work, and the committee acknowledges with gratitude input from William Press (University of Texas at Austin), Tim Gibson (Draper Laboratories), Stefan Savage (University of California, San Diego), and William Sanders (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) on a variety of cybersecurity-related topics in the course of its work.
As a primer, this report presents fundamental concepts and principles that serve as points of departure for understanding specific cybersecurity incidents or proposals to improve security. The specifics of cybersecurity change rapidly, but the fundamental concepts and principles endure, or at least they change much more slowly. These concepts and principles are approximately independent of particular cybersecurity technologies or incidents, although they manifest themselves in a wide variety of different technologies and incidents.
The report’s emphasis on fundamental concepts and principles also means that in the interest of brevity, coverage in this primer cannot be comprehensive. For readers who wish to explore particular topics more deeply, the detailed CSTB reports listed in Appendix B provide a substantial resource.
1 The Web page at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/CSTB/CSTB_059144 lists all CSTB reports related to cybersecurity.
BOX P.1 Selected Computer Science and Telecommunications Board Work on Cybersecurity—A Brief Summary of Highlights
The 1991 CSTB report Computers at Risk warned that “as computer systems become more prevalent, sophisticated, embedded in physical processes, and interconnected, society becomes more vulnerable to poor system design … and attacks on computer systems” and that “the nature and magnitude of computer system problems are changing dramatically” (p. 1). It also lamented that “known techniques are not being used” to increase security.
In 1999, CSTB released Trust in Cyberspace, which proposed a research agenda to increase the trustworthiness of information technology (IT), with a special focus on networked information systems. This report went beyond security matters alone, addressing as well other dimensions of trustworthiness such as correctness, reliability, safety, and survivability. Importantly, it also noted that “economic and political context is critical to the successful development and deployment of new technologies” (p. viii).
In 2002, CSTB issued Cybersecurity Today and Tomorrow: Pay Now or Pay Later, which reprised recommendations from a decade of CSTB cybersecurity studies. Its preface noted that “it is a sad commentary on the state of the world that what CSTB wrote more than 10 years ago is still timely and relevant. For those who work in computer security, there is a deep frustration that research and recommendations do not seem to translate easily into deployment and utilization” (p. v).
CSTB’s 2007 report Toward a Safer and More Secure Cyberspace observed that “there is an inadequate understanding of what makes IT systems vulnerable to attack, how best to reduce these vulnerabilities, and how to transfer cybersecurity knowledge to actual practice” (p. vii). It set forth an updated research agenda, sought to inspire the nation to strive for a safer and more secure cyberspace, and focused “substantial attention on the very real challenges of incentives, usability, and embedding advances in cybersecurity into real-world products, practices, and services” (p. xii).
In 2009, CSTB turned its attention to the technical and policy dimensions of cyberattack—the offensive side of cybersecurity. Technology, Policy, Law, and Ethics Regarding U.S. Acquisition and Use of Cyberattack Capabilities concluded that although cyberattack capabilities are an important asset for the United States, the current policy and legal framework for their use is ill-formed, undeveloped, and highly uncertain and that U.S. policy should be informed by an open and public national debate on technological, policy, legal, and ethical issues posed by cyberattack capabilities.
In 2010, the CSTB report Toward Better Usability, Security, and Privacy of Information Technology: Report of a Workshop identified research opportunities and ways to embed usability considerations in design and development related to security and privacy. In that year, CSTB also produced a second workshop report, Proceedings of a Workshop on Deterring Cyberattacks: Informing Strategies and Developing Options, a collection of papers that examined governmental, economic, technical, legal, and psychological challenges involved in deterring cyberattacks.
NOTE: All of these reports were published by the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
BOX P.2 The Project Statement of Task
A primer on the technical and policy issues of cybersecurity, building on more than two decades of prior Academies work, will be developed under the auspices of a small study committee. The report will examine what is known about effective technical and nontechnical approaches, the state of the art and open challenges, why relatively little progress has been made in cybersecurity despite the recommendations of many reports from the Academies and elsewhere, and potential policy responses. Much of the material will be drawn directly from previous reports. The committee will also review emerging issues and new technical and nontechnical approaches that may not have been covered in previous National Research Council reports.
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Steven Bellovin, Columbia University,
RuthAnne Bevier, California Institute of Technology,
Jack Goldsmith, Harvard Law School,
Raymond Jeanloz, University of California, Berkeley,
Anita Jones, University of Virginia,
Butler Lampson, Microsoft Corporation, and
Steven Wallach, Convey Computer Corporation.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Sam Fuller (Analog Devices). Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for mak-