Microsoft exec: Spying has ‘muddied’ cyber fight

A top Microsoft executive indicated on Thursday that government spying was getting in the way of legislating cybersecurity.

Angela McKay, the company’s director of cybersecurity policy and strategy, said that the government’s role as both a protector of the U.S.'s systems and a spy on other countries' networks has “muddied” the debate over new protections.

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“One of the challenges that has been historic but has also increased lately is that the government has several roles that it takes in cybersecurity,” McKay said at a forum hosted by Bloomberg Government.

“That complexity has made the information-sharing conversation much more difficult and it’s gotten muddied."

Global concerns about American spying in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks have darkened the path of a key cybersecurity bill that supporters have said is critical to increasing companies' protections.

The Senate’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) would make it easier for companies to share information about possible hackers and security weaknesses, but has run into opposition from privacy advocates who fear that people’s information would be shuttled to the National Security Agency.

“The kinds of information we’re talking about is, ‘Hey if you see this file don’t touch this file,’” said Andy Ozment, assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity office.

President Obama pledged to veto CISA's companion bill before it passed out of the House last year, out of privacy concerns.

“Our general philosophy is any information-sharing legislation has to be done in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties,” Ozment added.

While McKay made clear that she was not talking about any individual bill in particular, she said that Microsoft “remains committed to advancing information sharing and does see a role for government in helping to do that.”