Obama’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan heralds shift in defence strategy

Obama’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan heralds shift in defence strategy

President Obama’s recent Cybersecurity National Action Plan underlines the importance of cyber defence amidst growing risks and threats.

On February 9th, US President Barack Obama announced the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, a detailed proposal to modernise and strengthen the United States’ information technology (IT) systems.

The plan, part of a $19 billion budget invested in America’s cybersecurity programme, focuses on four main areas: modernizing current IT systems; creating a ‘cyber workforce’ through financial incentives; encouraging more effective work and ‘knowledge-sharing’ between both private and public sectors; and, finally, creating a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness of the importance of cybersecurity.

The proposals are a clear assertion that the federal budget is still firmly focused on defence, despite a number of cuts. They also make clear President Obama’s efforts to modernize and strengthen America’s systems to counter the growing threat of cyber-attacks.

The Information Age

We live in an age of technology, where the role of cyber communications has transformed how we live. A recent report predicted the rise of ‘smart cities’, suggesting computer systems will gradually become more autonomous and increasingly reliant on machine-to-machine interactions.

As technology progresses, moreover, it is likely that we will continue to see millions of more devices interconnected (popularly referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’). These devices will become even more ubiquitous in our daily lives.

But technology hasn’t just changed daily lives, it has also altered warfare and security, states’ predominate concerns.

Cyberspace has become a new domain of war. It permits precision, plausible deniability (where a country can be attacked without knowing which country attacked it), time sensitivity, and deception. It is a tool that is now used offensively, shown with the Stuxnet Worm virus, allegedly an American-Israeli creation and one which was effective in helping to disrupt Iran’s Nuclear Program.

In determining why security against these attacks is increasingly more important, we need only look towards satellites orbiting. These systems provide satellite mapping, without which warfare and communications would be taken back to the 19th century. In addition, a destructive virus in a satellite could render targeted bank transactions void and destabilize our automated infrastructure.

The Cyber-security Action Plan thus sends a clear message to the world stage that the US is taking its cybersecurity extremely seriously. As President Obama warned in a recent Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, “these cyber threats are among the most urgent dangers to America’s economic and national security”.

With the world increasingly dictated by its digital connectivity, Washington’s allies – and its competitors – will be watching developments closely.

Is more progress required in the realm of cybersecurity?

In 2015, the US federal government spent $637 billion on its defence and intelligence services. Comparatively, then, the $19 billion that was set aside for the Cybersecurity National Action plan might not seem enough.

While this proposed budget increase is certainly encouraging, the coming years are likely to herald further increases that go beyond the year-to-year rise of 3 percent between 2014 and 2015.

The weapons of war are moving from boots on the ground to pixels on a computer screen and the crosshairs of an unmanned aerial vehicle. Like all technology before it, from the UAV to the light machine-gun, it will be improved and innovated.

States will need to innovate alongside their technology to retain power and control, a concept as old as war itself. Consequently, we should expect to see the expenditure, of all nations, to gradually reflect this change.

President Obama’s recent Cybersecurity National Action plan underlines this shift, with countries around the world likely to increase their spending on cyber security in the coming years.

About Author

Alex Harris

Alex Harris is a Political Risk Analyst at GRI and currently works part-time in the Royal United Services Institute. He is studying for his MSc in International Relations, having completed his BA in History at King's College London. Alex is focusing specifically upon themes of terrorism, surveillance, cyber-security and privacy.