Has the State Department Dropped the Ball on Cybersecurity?

July 20, 2017 - 3 minutes read

The Trump administration hasn’t exactly played it smart when it comes to cybersecurity issues. Back in May, the president signed an executive order that bolstered the security of federal networks and our criticial infrastructure, but ever since his administration has made some baffling choices. Perhaps the most notable example was the president’s cockamamie tweet suggesting that the United States should collaborate with Russia on a “cyber security unit” in order to prevent the kind of election hacking that the Russia itself pulled off in our most recent presidential election. Even after the president walked that ridiculous idea back, iOS app developers cannot trust that the president has any sort of grasp on cybersecurity issues. But this week his State Department has made a more dangerous error, one that could have far-reaching consequences for the American people.

This week, the State Department pushed out its top cybersecurity diplomat, the esteemed Christopher Painter. Painter’s name may not be familiar to iOS app developers, but his loss will be felt by anyone who cares about cybersecurity in America. With his experience working with the National Security Council, Department of Justice, and FBI, Painter has a reputation as one of the top cybersecurity minds in the country. He was the head of the Office of the Coordination for Cyber Issues, created by Obama in 2011 to help navigate the increasingly fraught world of cyber diplomacy. So why would the State Department want to nix his role in the era of election hacks, ransomware attacks, and nuclear power plant infiltrations?

Apparently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is trying to restructure the department and will either merge or eliminate altogether the cybersecurity office. This decision could prove to be disastrous for America. According to Jason Healey, a cyber expert at Columbia University, cutting the State Department’s cybersecurity office means that “the United States would be the only major country without a lead diplomat to discuss cyber norms and trying to reduce the ever-escalating cyberattacks we see around the world.” When Obama established the office, he essentially created the idea of a cyber diplomat. Now nations all over the world have wisely appointed their own cybersecurity liasons. Without one of our own, Seattle iOS app developers have reason to be alarmed. Our country, once at the cutting edge of international cybersecurity issues, now seems content to step back. I can’t think of a worse time to fall behind.

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