Obama cyber czar: Trump State Department needs cybersecurity office

Obama cyber czar: Trump State Department needs cybersecurity office
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Former President Obama's cyber czar on Wednesday piled on the criticism of a rumored Trump administration plan to shutter the State Department's cybersecurity coordinator office.

Michael Daniel told The Hill that cybersecurity is an issue "that crosses multiple desks at the State Department."

"It's not just an economic problem," Daniel said at the Black Hat information security conference.

Daniel currently serves as president of the security industry information sharing group, the Cyber Threat Alliance.

The State Department is reportedly considering reassigning the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues (S/CCI) to a business issues office, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

The State Department has not confirmed the report, but the office's lead cybersecurity diplomat, Christopher Painter, resigned last week.

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Two dozen House Democrats co-signed a letter Friday asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the cyber issues office alive.

"At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever and we face constant cyber threats from state actors, it is vital that we retain a high-level diplomatic role to report directly to the secretary on global cybersecurity," they wrote.

Daniel, who served as cybersecurity coordinator for Obama's second term, said the office is key to avoiding international incidents. 

The private sector has also expressed concern.

"Threats are almost purely a question of state, one way or another," said John Bambenek, a threat intelligence member at Fidelis Cybersecurity.

He said cyber crime is substantially initiated overseas, where adversarial governments launch attacks against governments and businesses. Law enforcement agencies often need evidence stored on foreign computers, which runs into a web of international law issues the State Department is required to solve.

"It's almost like negotiating nuclear treaties without nuclear experts," said Eddie Habibi, the chief executive of the industrial systems protection firm PAS Global. 

Daniel also pointed out that the State Department has had some dramatic successes in cybersecurity in the past. 

In 2015, then-Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry: Trump's rhetoric gave North Korea a reason to say 'Hey, we need a bomb' Russian hackers targeted top US generals and statesmen: report Trump officials to offer clarity on UN relief funding next week MORE reached an agreement with China to curtail economic espionage. The agreement led to a dramatic drop in Chinese attacks to pilfer U.S. companies' intellectual property. 

Reducing expertise would reduce the weight of the United States on multilateral treaties, according to Daniel. That impact could be felt in debates over international norms in cyber warfare and in business treaties as well.