Today Howard Schmidt meets with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to discuss ideas for changing the economics of cybersecurity. Howard knows his stuff, and recognizes that this isn’t a technology problem, nor something that can be improved with some new security standard or checklist. Crime is a function of economics, and electronic crime is no exception.

I spend a lot of time thinking about these issues, and here are a few simple suggestions to get us started:

  • Eliminate the use of Social Security Numbers as the primary identifier for our credit history and to financial accounts. Phase the change in over time. When the banks all scream, ask them how they do it in Europe and other regions.
  • Enforce a shared-costs model for credit card brands. Right now, banks and merchants carry nearly all the financial costs associated with credit card fraud. Although PCI is helping, it doesn’t address the fundamental weaknesses of the current magnetic stripe based system. Having the card brands share in losses will increase their motivation to increase the pace of innovation for card security.
  • Require banks to extend the window of protection for fraudulent transactions on consumer and business bank accounts. Rather than forcing some series of fraud detection or verification requirements, making them extend the window where consumers and businesses aren’t liable for losses will motivate them to make the structural changes themselves. For example, by requiring transaction confirmation for ACH transfers over a certain amount.
  • Within the government, require agencies to pay for incident response costs associated with cybercrime at the business unit level, instead of allowing it to be a shared cost borne by IT and security. This will motivate individual units to better prioritize security, since the money will come out of their own budgets instead of being funded by IT, which doesn’t have operational control of business decisions.

Just a few quick ideas to get us started. All of them are focused on changing the economics, leaving the technical and process details to work themselves out.

There are two big gaps that aren’t addressed here:

  • Critical infrastructure/SCADA: I think this is an area where we will need to require prescriptive controls (air gaps & virtual air gaps) in regulation, with penalties. Since that isn’t a pure economic incentive, I didn’t include it above.
  • Corporate intellectual property: There isn’t much the government can do here, although companies can adopt the practice of having business units pay for incident response costs (no, I don’t think I’ll live to see that day).

Any other ideas?