Will President-Elect Trump Surprise on Cybersecurity?

I'm expecting more surprises from President-elect Trump, this time on cybersecurity policy. Here's why.

by / November 13, 2016
credit: JStone / Shutterstock.com

This has been a year of major government surprises.

First there was the shocking Brexit vote in the United Kingdom (U.K.).

Next, during an unprecedented U.S. presidential election campaign, hacked government and personal Hillary Clinton emails released by WikiLeaks became a significant part of the global narrative.

And this week, Donald Trump shocked the world when he was elected to become the next president.

Throughout Tuesday night as the votes were counted nationwide, the stock market futures sank, signaling a big drop on Wall Street. But after a negative open, more surprises unfolded over the next three days as the stock markets rallied strongly over the next three days — heading to record highs.

Are more post-election surprises coming? I think so.

Commentators were very surprised when the transition began well with President-elect Trump’s meeting with President Obama at the White House — setting a positive tone. Also, early comments by the president-elect softened some aspects of campaign pledges, such as perhaps keeping parts of Obamacare.

Despite election result protests in many major cities and concerns for the future by some, the nation can look to the next four years with hope in many areas. Let’s discuss one of them.

Are There Technology and Cybersecurity Plans?

Areas of policy that are somewhat unknown for the coming Trump administration include technology and cybersecurity policies within the public sector. While Hillary Clinton’s views in this area were widely studied, not nearly as much is known regarding where the new Trump administration intends to go regarding these vital topics to our nation’s economic and homeland security success. Also, how will the relationship go with the tech industry?

Here is what the Trump-Pence website says on Donald J. Trump's vision for cybersecurity. Some of the items include:

  • Order an immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities, including critical infrastructure, by a Cyber Review Team of individuals from the military, law enforcement, and the private sector.
    • The Cyber Review Team will provide specific recommendations for safeguarding different entities with the best defense technologies tailored to the likely threats, and will followed up regularly at various Federal agencies and departments.
    • The Cyber Review Team will establish detailed protocols and mandatory cyber awareness training for all government employees while remaining current on evolving methods of cyber-attack.
  • Instruct the U.S. Department of Justice to create Joint Task Forces throughout the U.S. to coordinate Federal, State, and local law enforcement responses to cyber threats....

As a reminder, here are some of things that Trump said over the past few months on cybersecurity. During one debate, President-elect Trump said this:

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. …

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.

Wired magazine offered this piece on what they think President Trump will do on cyber — with an emphasis on the fact that Silicon Valley is worried. Here’s an excerpt:

The battles Silicon Valley has fought with Obama’s Justice Department over iPhone and Whatsapp encryption may have just been a dress rehearsal. Tech firms now fear Trump’s DOJ would make even more intrusive demands that they hand over users’ private data. Two tech companies told Buzzfeed, for instance, that they were considering moving their servers and even headquarters out of the US to place them beyond the legal reach of a Trump administration. Trump, after all, called for a boycott against Apple when it refused to write software to help the FBI crack its iPhone encryption earlier this year.”

The Wired article goes on to encourage Americans to use more encryption and more privacy tools to protect themselves from government surveillance.

One more. Engadget.com offers: “The consequences of the Trump presidency on cybersecurity.” This piece is pretty negative in my view, and like so many other articles written on this topic, comes from an “anti-Trump” perspective. The article quotes Trump from 2015 and more recently:

Mr. Trump openly advocates hacking back, a controversial and ill-advised strategy. He said in 2015, "America should counter attack and make public every action taken by China to steal or disrupt our operations, whether they be private or governmental."

More recently he told press in October, "The United States must possess unquestioned capacity to launch crippling counter-cyberattacks. This is the warfare of the future ... America's dominance in this arena must be unquestioned and today, it's totally questioned."

Last month, Government Technology magazine offered this view from the Boston Globe that both Clinton and Trump lacked tech and cybersecurity savvy. “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have said nary a meaningful word on cybersecurity during the campaign. Both chose instead to talk about the military, national security and terror prevention as if this were a decade ago. And for good reason: They wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to say.”

My View

I must admit that I don’t know the details of what a Trump administration will actually do on cybersecurity policy, but I do know that many bipartisan leaders in Congress are leading voices on cyber for our nation. Their voices will be heard and listened to by the new administration. Donald Trump's style in business has been to delegate to the best and brightest.

There are too many vital interests at stake for our country for meaningful action not to occur in this hot security area. Furthermore, as a business leader, Donald Trump has dealt with global cybersecurity issues for decades in a pragmatic manner.

I am more optimistic about President-elect Trump regarding cybersecurity than these other commentators referenced above. Just as I said with President Obama in 2009, I think we should give our new president-elect the opportunity to lead in meaningful ways with his cyberplans and platform. He deserves an open mind and public- and private-sector leaders need to come together to offer workable recommendations. The challenges are certainly huge moving forward, but I am confident that President-elect Trump will surround himself with the best experts to lead the charge.

I plan to return to this topic again over the next two months with my list of specific ideas that make sense regarding new federal cybersecurity policy and/or keeping some current policies. There are many different perspectives on where our new president-elect should go regarding cybersecurity policy, and I will cover a range of options from numerous sources, including recent cybercommissions.

But in the meantime, I will reiterate my view that Trump will likely surprise us (in a positive way) on cybersecurity. In a year of surprises in other areas, President-elect Trump is not to be underestimated.

Let’s start with a hopeful outlook as we head toward Thanksgiving.

“America's best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.” Who said that? Ronald Reagan in 1992.