Agreement Offers IEEE Opportunity to Influence Cybersecurity Policy

IEEE Communications Society will work to make cyberspace stable and more secure

6 October 2010
sign3 Photo: Steve Foxall (Left, center) East West Institute founder and president John Edwin Mroz, shakes hands with (right, center) IEEE Communications Society president Byeong Gi Lee, after signing the memorandum of understanding. They are joined by representatives from the U.S Department of Homeland Security, Archipelago Enterprises, Middle East Children's Institute, AT&T, Thomson Reuters, EWI, and IEEE Communications and Computer societies.

For the first time in its recent history, IEEE has signed an agreement with a think tank to collaborate on international policy decisions involving a technical issue. The IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) signed a memorandum of understanding in May with the EastWest Institute (EWI), a nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy organization based in New York City, Brussels, and Moscow, to work together to make cyberspace safer and more stable.

“IEEE, through its Communications Society, will be involved in policy- making decisions about technical issues at the highest levels of government,” says Jack Howell, executive director of the society, in New York. “EWI wants to be sure that technologists and engineers are involved from the beginning in solving some of the world’s more complex technical issues.”

According to EWI’s chief technology officer, Karl Rauscher, IEEE was selected because of its “unparalleled stature as an authoritative, international, technical professional society. It’s a perfect partner for this cybersecurity initiative.” In his newly created CTO position, Rauscher is responsible for ensuring that any potential technology solutions are sound and the right experts are tackling them.

Rauscher, an IEEE Fellow and a Communications Society volunteer, says, “It’s really the right fit. Working with IEEE members, we will be able to identify the right kinds of solutions. IEEE is not compromised by commercial interests or political agendas; it’s where the best thinking and work gets done.”

EWI, founded in 1980, has focused on confronting critical challenges that endanger peace. Its programs are funded by individuals, private foundations, companies, and governments. It just recently began seeking partners in the technical community for its initiatives, which include strategies to defuse potential areas of regional and worldwide conflict; eliminating weapons of mass destruction; and exploring nuclear proliferation, terrorism, water security, human trafficking, and other hot-button issues. In the 1980s EWI played a key role helping manage tensions between NATO and the Soviet Union, and it has since worked to build a sustainable relationship of trust among Russia, its G-8 partners, and the world’s new rising powers. EWI’s China program has been involved since 2006 with the nation’s political, military, and academic leaders to integrate the country into an international system of peace and security. A series of events organized by EWI in 2007 and 2008 helped to reenergize disarmament discussions.

“One of the biggest lessons we’ve already learned is the need for what’s called a new ‘coalition of the willing’ made up of people from diverse backgrounds to deal with 21st-century threats,” John Edwin Mroz, EWI’s founder, president, and CEO, says in a video his organization recently produced. “There’s a particular need for engineers and communications specialists to start joining in with the policy community to solve problems. And not just in cybersecurity but in a number of related fields. This has not traditionally been done, or it’s been done in a very stilted and ad-hoc way.”

Adds Rauscher, “While electrical engineers have transformed the world we live in and have developed so many capabilities that are part of our daily lives, they’ve seldom been invited to the table where policies are being made about the cyberspace they’ve created.”

EWI and IEEE worked together during the past 12 months to sponsor a pair of technical meetings. The first was the Global Summit on Reliability of Global Undersea Communications Cable Infrastructure, held last October in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The infrastructure carries 99 percent of intercontinental digital traffic, linking more than 1 billion computer users. Outages of undersea cables have become more common lately, and the impact more severe. Four major outages occurred in the last three years

The Dubai conference was convened to assess the reliability of the undersea cable infrastructure; the potential impact of its failure; and recommendations to improve its resilience. Speakers included experts on the infrastructure, representatives from the financial sector, and several people seeking to change the international policy that covers the infrastructure. The meeting explored whether the cable-system reliability is appropriate for its critical importance, whether investments are keeping pace with global demand, and what could be done to mitigate the impact of failures. The IEEE Communications Society facilitated an online discussion forum where more than 100 individuals from six continents contributed.

More recently, IEEE and EWI collaborated in May when the Communications Society cosponsored EWI’s Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit, in Dallas, where the memorandum with IEEE was signed. Cyberattacks around the world have compromised confidential information, crippled critical Web sites, and exposed the vulnerability of financial data. The international community has not agreed on how best to deal with such threats.

EWI held the meeting to determine what new security measures are needed, and to start work on them. More than 400 people from 40 countries attended, including representatives from the European Network and Information Security Agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Data Security Council of India, and companies that included Dell, and Microsoft.

“International policy is far behind the fast pace of technology,” Rauscher says, “and that’s a limiting factor in our ability to enjoy and reap its benefits.”

The May meeting focused on eight areas: information technology, communications technology, financial services, essential governmental services, energy, transportation, national security, and media.

EWI and the Communications Society are working with representatives from the summit who volunteered to participate in the cybersecurity initiative follow-up to assign tasks from the eight areas to organizations from around the world. The follow-up is being facilitated via the IEEE Communications Society Communites site. IEEE ComSoc members also are busy organizing and recruiting presenters for the next meeting, to be held in June in London.

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