Cyber steers clear of tech vs. Trump feud

Cyber steers clear of tech vs. Trump feud
© Photo illustration/Garrett Evans

Cybersecurity companies are steering clear of the growing feud between President Trump and Silicon Valley, underscoring their willingness to continue to do business with the federal government.

Internet companies have been on a collision course with the White House since Trump’s election. Many executives have spoken out against the president, including in opposition to his order on immigrants and refugees.

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But cybersecurity businesses say they shouldn’t be lumped in with the tech executives fighting Trump’s agenda.

“As far as Silicon Valley versus the new administration, we’re not in that fight right now,” Pat Sheridan, vice president of federal sales at FireEye, told The Hill. “I think we will continue to solve a lot of key problems with our federal government customers and all our government customers. I’m not as concerned.”

FireEye is among the cybersecurity companies based in Silicon Valley that provide products or services to the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security also encourages information sharing with the private sector to boost cybersecurity and protect critical infrastructure.

Representatives from several of these companies said they are eager to partner with the federal government, regardless of who’s in power.

“I haven’t really seen or felt any change outside of what I see and read in the media,” said Kevin Davis, vice president of public sector business for Splunk. “Cybersecurity is a bipartisan issue; it is a critical issue.”

“Our nation’s cybersecurity and defense is a major priority for everybody,” Davis continued. “We’re happy to be aligned with that and helping along with that mission.”

Federal government spending  on cybersecurity has skyrocketed in recent years, putting lucrative contracts up for grabs. Defense giant Raytheon, for instance, nabbed a $1 billion contract with the Department of Homeland Security last year to protect agencies from cyber threats.

The increase in contracting work comes amid a boom for the cybersecurity industry that has made the sector a hot commodity in the stock market.

While smaller cybersecurity companies are on the rise, established powers in the technology world such as Apple and Google are using their clout in Washington to challenge the new administration directly.

Earlier this month, more than 100 companies in the technology industry filed a legal brief in a federal appeals court arguing that Trump’s controversial immigration executive order violated U.S. immigration laws and the Constitution.

“The order effects a sudden shift in the rules governing entry into the United States, and is inflicting substantial harm on U.S. companies,” the brief said.

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But when it comes to cybersecurity, industry leaders say the need to secure the nation’s computer systems and critical infrastructure goes beyond party.

“I have seen some people say, ‘I don’t support the president, so I’m not going to work with them.’ I think they sleep on it and they wake up, and 99 out of 100, they will say, ‘This is too important,’ ” said Aviram Jenik, CEO of Beyond Security, a vulnerability assessment company that sells products to the federal government and defense sector.

“It has nothing to do with that president or the other. Because who are we really punishing? It’s our infrastructure, our country, so what are we doing by not protecting it?”

“I’ve been doing this since 1999,” Jenik said. “I have seen three administrations, and I don’t think I saw any noticeable change in the behavior of the people I have worked with in the government.”

Still, some in the cyber community remain uncertain about how to interact with the new administration, especially following reports last week that the chief information security officer at the White House was forced to resign.

“It’s really an atmosphere of tremendous uncertainty right now, which is encouraging inaction more than anything else while people wait and see who is going to be on the other side of that table to actually work with on productive things,” Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy at Proofpoint, told The Hill.

“I do think that cybersecurity is bigger than any political party or any political affiliation, and most of the industry at some level recognizes that,” Kalember said. “How that’s actually going to translate into behavior, I think, is going to be very hard to tell if we don’t know who is going to be on the other side of the table.”

For one, industry leaders are waiting to examine the results of Trump’s executive action on cybersecurity, the signing of which was postponed by the White House without explanation at the end of January.

Some executives indicated that they were unimpressed by the initial details of the action but said they would withhold a full assessment until the updated version was rolled out.