US President Barack Obama’s administration laid out plans on Monday to work aggressively with other nations to make the Internet more secure, enable law enforcement to work closely on cybercrime and ensure that citizens everywhere have the freedom to express themselves online.
And in the strongest terms to date, the White House made it clear the US would use its military might to strike back if it should come under a cyberattack that threatened national security.
Coming in the aftermath of populist rebellions in the Middle East, the broad policy stresses Internet freedom and urges other nations to give citizens the ability to shop, communicate and express themselves freely online.
The White House plan emerges as international leaders are struggling to improve cooperation on global cybercrime and set guidelines for Internet oversight.
Cybersecurity experts have argued that the Internet cannot become a safer place until nations implement international agreements that better define and regulate cybercrime, provide oversight of the Internet and that set out new standards and rules for industry as it increasingly moves its business into the largely ungoverned online world.
The challenges are vast. International leaders are looking for ways to better secure online financial transactions and other business and high-tech exchanges between nations and corporations that span the globe.
They also are grasping for ways to crack down on hackers and other cybercriminals and terrorists who are routinely using the Internet to steal money, ferret out classified secrets and technology and disturb or destroy critical infrastructure, ranging from the electrical grid and telecommunications networks to nuclear plants and transportation systems.
Acknowledging that the Internet can be a tool used by governments to crack down on dissidents or by criminals to steal data, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that nations must agree on acceptable norms for cyberspace.
“What this document says, we want the Internet to be open and free and accessible and an economic engine to all people,” Clinton said during the White House rollout of the new policy document.
Clinton and other US federal agency leaders said the US will reach out to other nations to set voluntary standards for prosecuting cybercriminals, protecting intellectual property, securing networks and pursing terrorists who use cyberspace to plan attacks and woo followers.
For the Pentagon, it makes clear that the US will respond to a major cyberattack in much the way it would respond to any other threat to the country.
“We reserve the right to use all necessary means — diplomatic, informational, military and economic — as appropriate,” the policy said. It adds, however, that the US would exhaust all options before military force would be used.
The policy is more a set of guiding principles than a binding text and there are no set deadlines or goals for reaching agreements with other countries.
White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, in an Associated Press Television News interview, said the policy would allow the US to begin discussions with other countries about what is and is not appropriate activity on the Internet. Under the plan, nations must take responsibility for cybercrime within their borders.