It’s all over but the shouting. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first of three presidential debates last night. And now the real debate about who won, who lost, and whether any minds were changed can begin.
As has been the case for much of this presidential campaign, tech didn’t get a lot of mention — with the notable exception of cybersecurity.
Moderator Lester Holt asked, according to Washington Post transcript: “Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?”
Like a lot of the debate, the candidates responded, but neither offered a ton of substance. (Fact!) Instead, the answers were thinly veiled attempts to attack each other.
Well, I think cyber security, cyber warfare will be one of the biggest challenges facing the next president, because clearly we’re facing at this point two different kinds of adversaries. There are the independent hacking groups that do it mostly for commercial reasons to try to steal information that they can use to make money.
But increasingly, we are seeing cyber attacks coming from states, organs of states. The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee. And we recently have learned that, you know, that this is one of their preferred methods of trying to wreak havoc and collect information. We need to make it very clear — whether it’s Russia, China, Iran or anybody else — the United States has much greater capacity. And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private-sector information or our public-sector information.
And we’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have. We don’t want to engage in a different kind of warfare. But we will defend the citizens of this country.
And the Russians need to understand that. I think they’ve been treating it as almost a probing, how far would we go, how much would we do. And that’s why I was so — I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable. It’s one of the reasons why 50 national security officials who served in Republican information — in administrations — have said that Donald is unfit to be the commander- in-chief. It’s comments like that really worry people who understand the threats that we face.
So, Clinton didn’t hesitate to define the villain and to accuse Trump of being cozy with him. But she didn’t offer details as to just how she would change policy or deploy resources.
As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.
“But what did we learn with DNC? We learned that Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people, by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Look what happened to her. But Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of. That’s what we learned.
Now, whether that was Russia, whether that was China, whether it was another country, we don’t know, because the truth is, under President Obama we’ve lost control of things that we used to have control over.
We came in with the Internet, we came up with the Internet, and I think Secretary Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what ISIS is doing with the Internet, they’re beating us at our own game. ISIS.
So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.
But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing. But that’s true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester, and certainly cyber is one of them.
So, Trump provided even fewer specifics than Clinton, along with a denial that Russia was behind some recent high-profile acts (despite Obama’s administration attributing the attack to Russia) and a suggestion that they were carried out by some Jabba-the-Hut-sized hacker. Also, if the transcript is correct, his estimation that making the internet secure is “hardly doable” is likely to raise some eyebrows in security circles.
Even if the talk wasn’t dripping with substantive policy, security experts did express gratitude that it was at least on the national agenda. In a statement, Steve Grobman, chief technology officer of Intel Security, said:
It’s refreshing to see cybersecurity at the forefront of the national security conversation during tonight’s debate. In just a few years, we’ve seen cybersecurity go from a function of the IT back office, to the nation’s Oval Office. While events have tended to drive government into action, more and more of our nation’s top leaders understand the cyber battlefield is as critical as land, sea, air, and space. The prominence of cybersecurity in tonight’s debate is tremendous progress, with the promise of further progress to come in the coming months and years.