ISA pushes for security incentives over regulation

The group of IT vendors and customers believes incentives will do more to promote security than the government's regulation-based model

The U.S. government should explore new incentives for companies to invest in cybersecurity instead of focusing on regulation, a cybersecurity trade group said.

The ISA (Internet Security Alliance), made up of IT vendors and customers, called on the U.S. government to abandon old regulatory approaches in favor of incentives like cybersecurity insurance, awards programs, and caps on legal liability for companies that adopt cybersecurity best practices.

The alliance, in a white paper released Wednesday, said legislation that requires the U.S. government to create cybersecurity standards, including the Improving America's Security Act passed by the U.S. Senate in mid-March, takes the wrong approach. The Improving America's Security Act would authorize the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop standardization and certification programs for U.S. critical infrastructure, including the Internet.

"That approach will not work ... due to factors within the Internet itself," said Larry Clinton, president of the ISA. "The Internet is inherently international, it changes much too quickly, and it's under constant attack."

By contrast, a regulatory approach would be limited to U.S.-based divisions of companies, and it's slow to react to new threats, Clinton said.

Instead, the U.S. government should encourage companies to invest in cybersecurity and adopt best practices already outlined by a number of private organizations, he added. Incentives that reduce costs would help companies get over the attitude that investing in cybersecurity is a "cost center," he said.

"Government regulations can't keep up with Internet threats, but the profit motive can," Clinton added.

The incentives outlined in the ISA white paper could encourage companies to invest in cybersecurity not only in their U.S. divisions but also in their foreign ones, Clinton said.

Among the proposed incentives:

* Companies following best practices should be able to buy additional insurance for cybersecurity-related events. Some companies have deferred investments in cybersecurity because they are concerned that they aren't protected from liability, the white paper says.

* The U.S. government should limit legal liability for companies following best practices.

* U.S. government agencies should set cybersecurity standards in its procurement practices, creating new business opportunities for companies that follow best practices.

* The U.S. government should establish an awards program recognizing companies with strong cybersecurity programs.

"What we need to do is get more people to adopt [best practices]," Clinton said. "These investments are not being made aggressively enough."

The ISA is not calling for fewer penalties for cybercriminals or fewer consumer protection laws, Clinton said. "We're not saying, do less," he said. "We're saying, do more."

The ISA is a collaboration of the Electronic Industries Alliance and Carnegie Mellon's CyLab and works closely with the CERT Coordination Center. ISA helps organizations in several industries develop best practices in Internet security.

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