In a country that is obsessed with privacy and opinion, it is disconcerting to see that this election cycle has failed to thoroughly address the issue of cybersecurity. The closest we had come to a bold proclamation of our need for a security evolution has been John McAfee. What America needs now is a new “moon shot” for the near future.
Every candidate had a chance to speak about cybersecurity except for, possibly, someone who promises a free pony for every American. However, behind the din of two-party politics, John McAfee, running as a Libertarian Party candidate, placed cybersecurity as the single most compelling reason to listen to him. In most years, the Libertarian Party appeared as nothing more than a slightly detectable nod on Election Day. However, 2016 created some interesting insight into the direction of the country. In a poll by undergroundpoliticalpolling.com, Libertarian candidates garnered 12.8 percent of votes.
The Far Afield
Until a few months ago, John McAfee was a viable candidate despite his laundry list of apparent illegalities or just his sense of humor. He has accomplished many things: NASA programmer, drug dealer, technology guru, so-called “eccentric millionaire” (McAfee sold his company to Intel in 2010 for $7.68 billion), living a bizarre existence in Belize surrounded by dogs, armed guards, and young women. However, his ideals about technology and cybersecurity and his platform of “Privacy, Freedom, and Technology” were quite serious attempts at making the American citizen aware enough to understand that the American dream must be protected in all realms of commerce.
Every generation has a vision of a great society that needs to be defended against an apocalyptic prophecy. In the 1980’s, Reagan promised to restore Americans’ faith in their nation and themselves, to shrink “Big Government,” and to defend America more aggressively, especially against the Soviet Union. Today, Barack Obama has changed the way we are treated at hospitals, created new sources of energy, put the country back on a better long-term fiscal plan, and allowed all of us to be treated a bit more equally. We live in a time of real, progressive change with technological revolutions rewriting our view of everything from politics to biology. However, we are a country in transition with “dark web” enemies.
The need for a clear cybersecurity manifesto from our next commander in chief is not only a privacy issue, but also an economic imperative. The study for the Internet Association — which includes major companies such as Facebook and Amazon — found the online sector accounted for $966 billion in economic activity in 2014, and some three million jobs. The Internet’s economic impact has doubled since 2007 and now fuels at least six percent of the overall U.S. economy. Yet, unlike McAfee, many candidates, even those who have been in technology, viewed security as an afterthought.
We’re Not in the 80’s
Ronald Reagan did not have to deal with today’s world. In the mid 1980’s, cybersecurity was all about protecting data from theft, manipulative modification, or destruction. Keeping personnel records, financial information, industrial secrets, and similar data safe from competitors, foreign governments, and malicious individuals was the prime focus. It was a simple time with simple problems. In later years, the cybersecurity landscape has evolved into a complex interconnected web of data, devices, and automated control systems.
There will be more security scares and more leaks of the private business of our nation’s leaders. We live in uncommon times where elections of recent memory cannot compare to the extremism of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. While being a torchbearer for idealism and leftist leaners, Democrats turned away from Bernie Sanders to support him while also hurting Hillary Clinton’s race. Donald Trump uses history’s scars to temporarily strengthen yet ultimately weaken our country. Add to this Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — who were meant to be the face of the Republican party — and you can see why fear and hope are the only two ingredients needed for a successful campaign (common sense may be peppered in at times).
Americans are more concerned about cyberattacks than ballistic missiles, but, because there is no real consensus on what a massive cyberattack could look like, there is no urgency to prepare. As a result, political rhetoric dare not tread on uncertain footing. The good news is that the government is slowly but surely understanding the need to create a strategy. Initiatives such as the “Third Offset” strategy are not just a quest for next-generation technologies, but also a re-evaluation of existing defense programs with an eye toward how we can continue to have competitive, technological, and operational advantages in the world. In this context, cybersecurity must encompass everything from our televisions and automobiles to our military hardware.
While his history of murder, sex, drugs, and prison create elements of uncertainty, McAfee had the charisma, intelligence, and media savvy to change the presidential conversation in far too many ways. However, did anyone listen? A most urgent reason to have listened to McAfee was his views on the changing cybersecurity landscape. I’m not sure whether his concerns come true in the next four years or the next 40, but Mr. McAfee understands the dangers of the encroachment of technology into our daily habits.
The debate of privacy versus security is neither new nor without controversy. While socio-economic issues are always at the forefront in elections, technology seems to have taken a backseat based on its impact to society. The events of the past few months are examples of the murky waters we currently tread in. Hillary Clinton said in 2008, “One of the great challenges before us as a nation is remaining steadfast in our fight against terrorism, while preserving our commitment to the rule of law and individual liberty.” I have hope that the political class is starting to understand the dangers before the U.S. and the need for our new President to usher in an era of American exceptionalism.
Image Credit: CC by Gage Skidmore