If you are headed to the mall today to make returns and use the gift cards before you misplace them, and you are stopping by a Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million or any of the independents, be sure to read this New York Times’ essay by Michiko Kakutani on the long list of excellent memoirs, novels and non-fiction assessments of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kakutani misses some of the best, including Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life In The Emerald City and Little America as well as Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen, but the selections offered include many titles I haven’t seen and a helpful look at the literature produced from the first decade-plus of what is going to be a very long war.
Speaking of the long war, the head of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) had a press call Tuesday to alert reporters about what he expected would be a sizable pile of drones under Christmas trees. None were under mine, and certainly I have long caught the occasional glimpse of an enthusiast flying a small plane from the top of a bluff or off of the California coast, but the prospect of “hundreds of thousands” of drones operating in private hands, unregulated except for prohibitions similar to speed limit signs in Montana is at best very interesting and not a little sinister.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Australia where Prime Minister Abbott has called another terror attack “likely,” and where security forces are on the highest alert possible as New Year’s Eve approaches. Similar warnings have been issued in France and Great Britain, the result of ISIS calls for “self-starters” to launch attacks with any weapon at hand, including cars and trucks. Three attacks in three days in France brought home the reality of the threat but it was obscured in the U.S. by coverage of the murders of the NYPD officers and the near-constant cut-aways to demonstrators in New York and in the aftermath of a shooting of an armed robber in St. Louis, where a Christmas Eve murder and shooting of three others put a grim backdrop to the discussion of the police and the dangers they face..
Businesses, for their part, have long argued for more help from Washington in combating hackers. If Delta Air Lines Inc. planes were being attacked by foreign fighter jets, no one would expect Delta to solve the problem on its own, many companies’ executives argue. After J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. this summer suffered one of the worst known hacks on a bank, Chief Executive James Dimon said, “The government knows more than we do.”
Such requests from the private sector are likely to increase following the hack on Sony, cybersecurity experts say. One cybersecurity investigator said that since the Sony incident, executives at insurance and energy companies have fretted that hackers may now be more likely to destroy troves of data.
At the same time, companies are trying to keep the government at arm’s length on certain parts of cybersecurity. For instance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying groups have successfully fought off attempts to set minimum cybersecurity standards for industries such as energy, banking and public utilities. Those standards, the companies say, would be too burdensome and, some say, could be used against firms in litigation following a breach.
Business concerns about overregulation, among other factors, have played a role in the collapse of efforts in Congress in recent years to pass legislation that would create incentives for companies to take additional security precautions and share information. Some proposals have paired liability protection for businesses in exchange for meeting tougher security standards.
It seems clear that companies are going to need a “safe harbor” guarantee and the pre-emption of conflicting state statutes and liability levels to get deep into the business of serious cyber-security. Right now the prevailing attitude is delegation to a VP of IT and hope for the best. When hackers wipe out a bank’s records or pull serial Snowdens on more than Hollywood’s elite, that will change overnight.