Senate Dem calls for cybersecurity ‘militia’

A Democratic senator on Monday called for the creation of a cybersecurity “militia” that would help the U.S. shore up its cybersecurity posture, even if it means recruiting people who don’t measure up to traditional military recruiting standards.

The suggestion was made by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in afternoon remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Whitehouse said the country had witnessed several “game-changers” over the last seven months, and that they effectively amounted to a new Cold War in the cyberarena.

“We can, with a coalition of willing allies, develop international cybernorms … that set expectations and empower deterrence in cyberspace,” Whitehouse said. “Countries that sponsor cyberattacks against U.S. interests, or who assist, license or shelter those who conduct cyberattacks, should be put on notice that there will be consequences for such actions.”

That suggestion puts Whitehouse at odds with the stance taken by officials in the Obama administration. The administration has refused to lay out explicit consequences for cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, and declined to attribute responsibility for most attacks. That posture has drawn the ire of many in Congress.

“In the Cold War, we didn’t negotiate our deterrence policy with our atomic adversaries, and we don’t need our cyberadversaries to sign off on deterrence policy now,” Whitehouse said.

He added that December’s attack on the electrical grid in Ukraine, which left hundreds of thousands without power, should change how seriously the U.S. views cyber.

“It’s tempting to conclude that our superior American technology would have fended off such an attack, but there is little evidence to support that view,” Whitehouse stated, saying that the more modern technology behind U.S. infrastructure would be even more difficult to fix in the event of a cyberattack.

He suggested that part of the solution was to allow cybersecurity experts to help the government without enlisting in agencies like the NSA or the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, instead reverting to a model used in an earlier era.

“We should take a look at the old-fashioned militia model that lets ordinary citizens come to their country’s aid,” Whitehouse said. “This could be through the traditional National Guard … but it could also be separate. In this theater of operations, it really doesn’t matter how someone’s hair is cut, or whether they can’t or just won’t do pushups for you, or if they just like to sleep in until noon. A cybermilitia is worth exploring.”

He added that resources outside government were critical to keeping pace in cybersecurity, saying the feds should “take robust advantage of the private sector’s talents, and make sure those who operate our critical infrastructure are not slacking … and [are] meeting their cyberdefense responsibilities.”


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