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Microsoft Secure

This last October we saw more countries than ever participate in initiatives to raise cybersecurity awareness. What was once largely a US approach has evolved into events and initiatives around the world by governments, civil society groups, and private sector partners. This increased breadth and depth of activity reflects governments’ increased understanding of the importance of cybersecurity, not only for their operations but for the lives of their citizens. My team’s research indicates that today over half of the world’s countries are leading some sort of national level initiative for cybersecurity, with countless other efforts at sectoral, state, city, or other levels.

However, developing effective approaches to tackling cybersecurity at a national level isn’t easy, especially if they are going to have widespread or long-lasting effects. The complexity of developing approaches for an issue that truly touches all aspects of the modern economy and society cannot be understated and if approached in the wrong way can create a quagmire of laws, bodies, and processes. The different aspects of cybersecurity such as promoting online safety, workforce skills development, and critical infrastructure protection, all cut across an unprecedented range of traditional government departments, from defense and foreign affairs, to education and finance. Effectively, cybersecurity is one of the first policy areas that challenges traditional national governance structures and policy making. It is unlikely to be the last, with issues such as artificial intelligence hard on its heels.

To deal with this challenge, governments are exploring new governance models. Some countries have created a dedicated department within a particular ministry, such as India. Others have looked at extending the work traditionally done by the police or a national computer security incident response team, such as Malaysia. Moreover, countries as diverse as Australia, France, Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, Belarus, Israel, and Singapore, already have specific bodies of government responsible for cybersecurity.

However, despite the fact that many countries have already taken steps to establish or strengthen their own cybersecurity bodies; no single, optimum, model can be pointed to. The reasons are many, from different governance set ups, to varying levels of investment and expertise available, to the fact that dealing with cybersecurity is a relatively new endeavor for governments.

Taking this variety into account, and coupling it with our own perspective and experience, Microsoft has collected good practices that we believe can support national engagement on cybersecurity. Today we are releasing a new whitepaper: Building an Effective National Cybersecurity Agency. Its core insights center around the following set of recommendations for governments in order to avoid becoming bogged down in cybersecurity challenges that are otherwise avoidable:

  1. Appoint a single national cybersecurity agency. Having a single authority creates a focal point for key functions across the government, which ensures policies are prioritized and harmonized across the nation.
  2. Provide the national cybersecurity agency with a clear mandate. Cybersecurity spans different stakeholders with overlapping priorities. Having a clear mandate for the agency will help set expectations for the roles and responsibilities and facilitate the intra-governmental processes.
  3. Ensure the national cybersecurity agency has appropriate statutory powers. Currently, most national cybersecurity agencies are established not by statute but by delegating existing powers from other parts of government. As cybersecurity becomes an issue for national legislature, agencies might have to be given clear ownership of implementation.
  4. Implement a five-part organizational structure. The five-part structure we propose in the paper allows for a multifaceted interaction across internal government and regulatory stakeholders, as well as external and international stakeholders, and aims to tackle both regulatory and other cybersecurity aspects.
  5. Expect to evolve and adapt. Regardless of how the structure of the national cybersecurity agency begins, the unavoidability of change in the technology and threat landscape will require it to evolve and adapt over time to be able to continue to fulfill its mandate.

As the challenges and opportunities that come as a result of ICT proliferation continue to evolve, governments will need to ensure they are sufficiently equipped to face them, both today and in the future. Bringing together diverse stakeholders across different agencies, such as defense, commerce, and foreign affairs, and backgrounds, including those from law, engineering, economics, ad policy, will enable our society to both deal with the threats and harness the opportunities of cyberspace. It is this diversity of stakeholders that contributes to the challenge cybersecurity poses for traditional governance.

But cybersecurity is the first of many emerging areas that necessitates new and creative solutions that allows policymakers to work hand in hand with their counterparts across government, civil society and industry. For cybersecurity, as well as the issues to come, cooperation is the underpinning of achieving these goals. However, cooperation cannot be created organically, it must grow from an effectively structured governance system. Establishing a national cybersecurity agency will enable governments to do just that.