Cybersecurity a Major Topic in 2016 Presidential Election

The Presidential Election and Cybersecurity

Don’t look now, but cybersecurity is lurking as a major issue in the developing U.S. presidential election cycle. The stage has been set by developments in the seven years since the last election with no incumbent on the ballot.

In 2008, no one had heard of the Target or Sony hacks, the Stuxnet worm or Dyre malware. Hardly anyone cared about Facebook’s privacy policy. Most people thought of cybercriminals as bright but maladjusted teenagers, and Internet crime meant emails from fake Nigerian widows.

In short, the cybersecurity era has come of age. But its full political implications are only now beginning to emerge, and we don’t yet know the level of importance cybersecurity will take in the upcoming presidential election.

Professionals Look for an Understanding

A survey of cybersecurity professionals by Tripwire found that 68 percent of them preferred to vote for a presidential candidate with a strong cybersecurity policy. But as one expert put it, there is “a big difference between a candidate who has a cybersecurity policy and a candidate who has an understanding of cybersecurity.”

Cybersecurity professionals hardly compose a strong voting bloc, and presidential campaigns will target them not for votes but rather to win support from cybersecurity thought leaders. Their views could help shape public perceptions of a complex issue that most people cannot expect to understand on their own.

Just to complicate things, the cybersecurity issue does not always go by that name. In this day and age, privacy as an issue refers chiefly to online and data privacy, which means to say cybersecurity as viewed through a privacy lens.

An Issue that Takes Many Forms

How safe are people’s computers and mobile devices from snooping? How safe is the personal data such as credit card numbers they have entrusted to companies and other organizations? What about their data stored in the cloud? Are people even aware that whatever they put on their devices is being stored in the cloud? These issues are all about cybersecurity.

Public concern about cybersecurity is also subject to cross-cutting concerns. Privacy protection wins strong support on both the right and left, but with differences in focus: Conservatives are more likely to worry about foreign threats, liberals about prying by business, and both sides may be suspicious of government snooping and cybersecurity policies.

Enterprise security, which is a major concern of cybersecurity professionals, may not strongly engage the electorate in and of itself — people are more likely to scoff at corporate victims than to feel sorry for them. But enterprise breaches also expose consumers, giving voters a stake in corporate cybersecurity, as well.

Given the complexities of the issue and the many forms it takes, cybersecurity by that name may not directly emerge as a campaign battleground issue. But whether as concern about terrorism, government intrusion or consumer financial protection, cybersecurity issues in one form or another are likely to be prominent in the 2016 presidential election.

Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in...