NEWS

Intelligence Official Proposes U.S. Government Help Companies Protect Proprietary Data

By Matthew Harwood

A high-ranking intelligence official says the U.S. government is considering taking equity stakes in American high technology companies to prevent proprietary information from falling into the wrong hands, reportsThe Washington Post's Walter Pincus.

During a speech at the annual symposium of the Association for Intelligence Officers, Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, called for "a fundamental rethinking of our government's traditional relationship with the private sector," noting that the majority of U.S. critical infrastructure is privately owned and needs help protecting themselves from cyberattacks and cybercriminals.

Kerr said he fears hackers that steal proprietary information, crash systems, and place false information onto Web sites. He also fears "supply chain attacks," during which a hacker plants "vulnerabilities in communications hardware and other high-tech equipment 'that can be used later to bring down systems or cripple our infrastructure.'"

During a speech at another symposium, Kerr spoke of three ideas to help companies protect their proprietary information, according to Pincus.

One approach would have the government take equity stakes in companies developing technical products, in effect expanding the practice of In-Q-Tel, the CIA entity that invests in companies.

Another proposal is to provide the same protective capabilities applied to government Web sites, ending in .gov and .mil, to the private industry's sites, ending in .com, which Kerr said have close to 98 percent of the nation's most important information.

He also suggested that the government ask insurers whether they cover "a failure to protect intellectual capital." That way, Kerr said, the insurers, through their premiums, "provide an incentive for companies, in fact, to pay attention to protecting their intellectual property."

As Kerr made clear, these proposals are aimed at keeping the United States as the most technologically advanced and economically dynamic country in the world.

"We have a responsibility," he said, "to help those companies that we take an equity stake in or those that are just out there in the U.S. economy, to protect the most valuable assets they have, their ideas and the people who create them."

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