Microsoft Corp. has taken another approach, considered by some to be a “responsible” counterattack. The company sues unidentified hackers and secures court approval to shut down computers engaged in malicious activity. But that approach may not be feasible for most companies, which don’t have the computer giant’s cash coffers.
Rodney Joffe, senior technologist at the security software manufacturer Neustar Inc. and a regular cybersecurity advisor to the White House, said counterattacks and even legally sanctioned actions provide only temporary relief.
“It makes a great splash and creates a sudden vacuum, but there’s hundreds of people who fit into that vacuum because it doesn’t take attackers very long to climb back over the wall,” Joffe said.
Criminal prosecutions are the best deterrent, but they require more cooperation between the government and the private sector, he said.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, passed by the House in April, frees companies from liability if they share information about incoming attacks with law enforcement. Senate leaders have said they may introduce a competing measure with stronger privacy protections for consumers.
Joffe said he expects some form of a safe-harbor law for companies by the end of the year.
“We need something that encourages sharing of information, and in some cases mandates it,” he said. “Our enemies have almost carte blanche to walk over us right now, and there’s little that can be done about it.”
Some security analysts argue that lawmakers need to go even further, using a constitutional provision to grant a “letter of marque and reprisal” authorizing private companies to counterattack in self-defense. The nation’s Founding Fathers wrote the provision as a way to help merchant ships fend off pirates.
Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, said today’s companies may be able to obtain the authorization and justify a counterattack.
“To be sure, it would have to be a desperate situation to grant a letter of marque, but we may be in that situation now,” he said.
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