Trump, Putin, and the Absurd “Cyber Security Unit”

July 10, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Cybersecurity issues have been weighing on the minds of Seattle IoT app developers lately, especially in the aftermath of the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks. The general public is not yet panicking, but people are certainly growing more aware of how vulnerable their digital information is. In this era of increased alertness to hacks and cyberattacks, there even seems to be a “villain”: the Russians. In between the confirmed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and emerging reports from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security that indicate that Russians hacked into nuclear power plants and other energy companies, Americans are understandably very wary of the Russian government.

Well, at least most Americans are. President Donald Trump, whose relationship to the Russian government is under heavy scrutiny, walked away from his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit with a decidedly more trusting attitude. Yesterday he tweeted another of his trademark baffling tweets: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.” This tweet has set off a lot of chatter in Washington, with Senator Lindsay Graham, one of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics, quipping, “It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.” For internet of things app developers concerned about cybersecurity, it demonstrates (once again) that the president is essentially ignorant about a tech issue that effects everyone on the globe.

Several hours later, Trump walked back plans for a “Cyber Security unit,” stating that the president does not believe the idea is possible, but that a cybersecurity ceasefire between Russia and the United States is. But the fact that the president would even share such a foolish plan with the American public should worry IoT app developers and anyone else stressed about the vulnerability of the systems that keep America running smoothly. Sure, the United States has cooperated with governments with a history of hacking us before. The U.S. and Chinese governments are constantly hacking one another, but during the Obama administration, the two nations cooked up an agreement to keep things relatively civil. Since this surprisingly effective agreement, intellectual property theft from the Chinese is way down and tensions over cybersecurity issues between the superpowers have calmed down. But to suggest a joint cybersecurity task force with Russia is going too far. Sharing sensitive information with a government that has shown again and again a desire to destabilize the democratic institutions that define the West would be a catastrophic mistake. Let’s hope that like so much of what Trump tweets, this is just empty talk.

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