Cybersecurity: The key issue Trump and Clinton still need to address
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Over the past 16 months, we’ve seen the candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election discuss, debate and discourse a wide variety of topics that are important to voters across the country, from immigration reform to health care to foreign policy to the threat of global terrorism. But there’s yet another issue that affects nearly each and every American, an issue that is critical to the long-term health and welfare of the United States.

America is under cyberattack; this is the harsh reality. Over the past few years, we’ve seen numerous high-profile hacks on government systems that have directly impacted government organizations, citizens, and in some cases even the presidential candidates themselves. The Office of Personnel Management breach exposed the addresses, health and financial history, and other private details of over 21 million people, including every person that was given a government background check for the last 15 years. We saw hackers use taxpayers’ Social Security Numbers to obtain more than 100,000 E-File PINs directly from the IRS. And of course, we saw email archives leaked from both the DNC and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally MORE, directly leading to the resignation of four top executives.

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These attacks have real and measurable costs to the American and global economies. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal estimated the annual cost of cyberespionage and cybercrime to the U.S. economy at around $100 billion. This year, Forbes reported the global cost of cyberattacks is expected to rise to $2.1 trillion by 2019.

Cyberwarfare is the attack vector of the future; it’s cheaper and less risky than physical warfare and has no geographical borders. Every new device connected to the internet – from fridges to thermostats to cars to airplanes – becomes a potential target for cyberattack. Security researchers have hacked connected cars and taken over the steering, hacked airplanes and taken over the engine controls, and even hacked into the U.S. electrical power grid. I’ve personally seen my colleagues hack a Wi-Fi enabled tea kettle to silently take over a secure enterprise network and hack a morphine infusion pump with the ability to overdose and kill a patient. The Internet of Things fundamentally changes the threat profile of cyberattacks, and cybersecurity is no longer just about protecting against the loss of electronic data; it’s also about protecting against attacks with real-world consequences and potential loss of life.

In March, WIRED magazine published an article on how the major candidates view cybersecurity, assessing the range critically “from total indifference to mild indifference” while conceding that the broad outlines of cybersecurity positions would surely be refined with time.

Currently,  Donald Trump’s website mentions cybersecurity in the context of U.S.-China trade reform, stating that “China’s ongoing theft of intellectual property… costs the U.S. over $300 billion and millions of jobs each year.” He states that “we will enforce stronger protections against Chinese hackers” but does not lay out a detailed plan for reducing the threat. During the December 2015 Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, Trump said he would “be open to closing areas (of the internet) where we are at war with somebody” but did not lay out a vision for how this might work, given the fundamentally open and interconnected nature of the internet. His position is clearer on the lawful access debate, stating when asked about NSA surveillance that “I tend to err on the side of security.”

Hillary Clinton also seems to focus on China with regards to cybersecurity, stating on her website that she will “press China to play by the rules—including in cyberspace.” She recognizes that “our electric grid… is increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks” and that “cyber attacks have profound consequences for our economy and our national security,” but thus far, Secretary Clinton has simply stated that “our country will outpace this rapidly changing threat, maintain strong protections against unwarranted government or corporate surveillance, and ensure American companies are the most competitive in the world.”

Earlier this year, President Obama unveiled the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, reinforcing the White House’s role in partnering with private industry to improve cybersecurity and allocating $19 billion for cybersecurity in the 2017 Budget, a 35 percent increase over 2016. The upcoming Presidential Debates represent a fantastic opportunity for both candidates to discuss cybersecurity, clarify their policies and comment on the plan and whether they would continue to support it. More importantly, the debates represent an opportunity for voters like you to engage the candidates on cybersecurity, ask the tough questions and seek specific answers. Because while Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton may want to avoid addressing the elephant in the room, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE or President Clinton will not have that same luxury.

Alex Manea is director of BlackBerry Security.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.