fcc chief urges more cyber control for companies
June 13, 2014

FCC Calls For Industry-Led Increase In Cybersecurity

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

On Thursday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler called upon communications companies to take a lead in bolstering their networks from cyber-attacks and other online threats. In what has been billed as his first major speech devoted fully to the topic of cybersecurity, the FCC chairman urged the private sector to "step up" and assume new responsibility as well as market accountability when it comes to managing cyber risks.

This plan is still voluntary and would rely on companies to actually take the lead in ensuring their respective networks are secure from cyber-attacks. However, Wheeler also made it clear in his speech on Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute that companies will need to take these warnings seriously if they truly want to avoid new regulations from the FCC and other government agencies.

"I won't pretend to be an expert on national security, especially relative to the other speakers you will hear from today," Wheeler said in his remarks. "But I suspect the reason you invited me today is because I do pretend to know a little something about networks, and our cybersecurity challenge is network-based. Since the FCC is the nation's network agency, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on what I envision as the FCC’s role in addressing network security for the communications sector in the Internet age."

Wheeler argued regulation could be necessary to fight rapidly evolving online threats. However, any efforts in Congress to pass new cybersecurity regulations for industries critical to national security and the economy have been met with gridlock. The Obama administration has attempted to fill these security holes via executive action.

"Wheeler is right to call on communications companies to continue to provide better security. They do. However, there is nothing they can do to eliminate the problem," said telecommunications industry analyst Jeff Kagan. "It's a continual challenge to try and stay one step ahead of the bad guys."

The FCC, which is responsible for oversight that includes the nation's wireless and Internet providers, has tried to stay at least one step ahead and has tried to adopt industry-wide minimum cybersecurity standards – but in doing so has faced resistance from large communications companies. Wheeler's message was clear; do better or face regulation.

Wheeler added, "The challenge is that this private sector-led effort must be more dynamic than traditional regulation and more measurably effective than blindly trusting the market or voluntary best practices to defend our country. The new paradigm for the communications sector must be real and meaningful. It has to work. The Commission's commitment to market accountability will help ensure that it does work. And, while I am confident that it will work, we must be ready with alternatives if it doesn't."

Wheeler further noted the FCC cannot "abdicate its responsibilities" because of threats that use new technology. "If an emergency alert is hijacked," he said, "if a core network infrastructure goes down, are we really going to say, well, that threat came through packed-switched IP-based networks, not circuit-switched telephony, so it's not our jobs?"

While the agency will continue to encourage cybersecurity deployment and development, some companies have already reacted to Wheeler's message.

"The success of our business depends upon providing customers with a safe and secure network environment,” Comcast said in a statement as reported by PC World on Thursday. "For that reason, Comcast and other communications providers view cybersecurity as a key component of our overall enterprise risk management. We have and will continue to be committed to taking a leadership role in establishing practices that meet the dynamic and ever-changing nature of these threats."

It could take more than calls for security and messages from companies; it will take real efforts as well.

"Security is a growing problem and threat. The industry recognizes this and invests heavily in security to protect both them and their customers, Kagan told redOrbit. "However the problem continues to grow."

Regulation may not solve the problem either, so Wheeler's threats could solve little in the end.

"I don't see what regulation could be implemented that would be effective that the industry is not already doing," added Kagan. "This is a tough one. However, we must continue to work hard to stay as far ahead as possible."