NEWS

Silicon Valley Entrepreneur to Fill Top Cybersecurity Post

By Matthew Harwood

The Bush Administration will announce today that a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has been tapped to run the nation's defenses against cyberattacks and other cyber-related vulnerabilities, reports The Wall Street Journal and washingtonpost.com.

Rod Beckström—best known for developing the TWiki.net, an internal networking tool for businesses— will run the National Cyber Security Center, which sprang from a national security directive signed by President Bush in January. The NCSC will be part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Beckström will report directly to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The Center,  WSJ reports, will first work to protect the government's information networks from unauthorized intrusions by spies, terrorists, and hackers and then use that knowledge to help protect private networks as well. Over the past year and a half, the U.S. government has experienced multiple cyberattacks against networks at the departments of State, Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security, according to another story on washingtonpost.com.

The appointment strikes both news outlets as an unlikely choice for Washington. Beckström is neither a DC insider nor a cybersecurity expert. His allure may come from ideas he advocated in a book he coauthored called "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations." The book's thesis argues that networked organizational structures with many nodes, flexible and fluid heirarchies, and no clear leadership are more resilient than top-down organizational structures with concrete hierarchies found throughout government and business today.

Washingtonpost.com explains using the book's analogy:

Following this analogy, user-driven, starfish-like organizations distribute decision-making among all members. If parts of the organization are crushed, the whole survives and recovers, just as a starfish regenerates an arm if it is severed. In contrast, the book posits, industry and government are more akin to "spider" organizations that function within a centralized structure, with the leader calling the shots. One solid blow to the head cripples or kills a spider.

While noting Beckström's unique qualifications, WSJ implies Beckström's knowledge of decentralized networked structures made him the ideal choice for the position after the U.S. underestimated the threat of al Qaeda, insurgents, and hackers, which employ networked organizational structures successfully. The paper says his book has a "quiet following in U.S. military and intelligence circles" and that Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, pushed for his appointment.

Another reason for Beckström's appointment may be his credibility within the private sector. WSJ said he will act as an ambassador to the private sector, which has become wary of government interference in their computer networks even if the stated goal is to protect them. The private sector, says the paper, fears participating in any government initiative after the telecommunications industry faces lawsuits for allegedly participating in the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program.

 

 

 

 

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