Back Door On Encryption Left Wide Open For South Carolina GOP Debate

Mattie Lolavar Cybersecurity Consultant
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This week’s GOP debate in South Carolina should be an auditory masterpiece to debate viewer’s ears, at least when it comes to our nation’s most serious cybersecurity issues. After a torrent of misinformation on the issue from Carly Fiorina during the last debate, equally troubling was the silence by the rest of the GOP candidates who passed on the opportunity to refute Fiorina’s flippant answer to encryption and tech companies’ assistance to law enforcement agencies, smothering efforts to commence a robust national debate. Fiorina’s performance may be the single reason she has been eliminated from the main stage for Thursday’s debate.

Carly Fiorina skirting the encryption question by placing blame on weak arithmetic by law enforcement, begged a rebuttal by the other candidates. First, to refute the former main-tier candidate’s claim that government’s slow tech curve in using faulty algorithms directly resulted in the terrorist events such as the Boston Bomber and San Bernardino. Or, countering her strategy of “just ask” the tech companies to hand over information they do not even possess due to encryption keys manufactured directly in smartphone devices.

At least Gov. John Kasich seized the opportunity to actually answer moderator Wolf Blitzer’s original question directed to Fiorina in a comprehensive manner. His enthusiasm and astuteness in actually answering a question posed to Fiorina may be the reason he is in and she is out of the main debate. But only him. That too is troublesome, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden advises Jeb Bush. Gov. Chris Christie, an experienced prosecutor in the 9/11 era and Ted Cruz, a former Solicitor General of Texas and Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice have law enforcement experience capable of challenging Fiorina’s encryption answer.

Bridging the gap that currently exists between the government and private sector is essential to stay ahead of the cyber encryption war games and cyber hacktivists. However, what has transpired by tech companies’ installing irretrievable encryption keys in the actual devices is neither a balanced solution to the problem nor assists the United States with tools to track terrorist communications, threats, and other criminal activity from state and non-state actors. It is also an anemic solution to private corporations’ exposure to intellectual property theft on a global scale — remember the cyber theft of Sony Pictures’ corporate communications, which was later published via the Internet by cyber puppeteer WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

Any candidate that skirts a serious question like the one posed to candidate Fiorina, which was at odds with her tech industry experience, is asking for criticism both on a technical and policy front. Nor should the rest of the GOP candidates be excused for their acquiescence giving her the final word during a national debate. American voters and citizens deserve better than a candidate’s deliberate deflection particularly holding advisory board experience with the NSA. They also deserve candidates with real law enforcement credentials that should be capable of manifesting a serious answer and rebuttal.

Consulting firm brought to fame by Edward Snowden, Booz Allen Hamilton, publishes articles on the “Art and Science Behind Cyber Challenges” highlighting the cyber challenges we face on a global level is striking the right balance between private and public sectors. Artist and scientific inventor Da Vinci expressed his concern on authority unchecked as “nothing strengthens authority as silence” understanding too the importance of balance. Unfortunately, Fiorina had been viewed as the authoritative source in the GOP on tech and cyber issues. The South Carolina debate this Thursday can be fertile ground to remove Fiorina’s authoritative veneer, masked in counterfactual information during the last GOP debate, and for the rest of the GOP presidential lineup to demonstrate they are on top of these pressing national security vulnerabilities spiraling from cybersecurity.

South Carolina has first hand experience with cybersecurity hacks with massive cyber breaches resulting in approximately 5.7 million South Carolina taxpayers’ Social Security numbers being compromised. Gov. Nikki Haley called the episode in 2012 “a debacle.” South Carolina, home to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center and one of Google’s largest national data centers, is a prime venue to revive the cyber encryption debate affecting the government and the private sector and hopefully close the back door left gaping after the last GOP debate in December.

Mattie Lolavar is President of M22 Strategies, Inc. policy and a communication group focusing on Cybersecurity in Washington, DC. She was the Republican nominee for Congress in California’s 36th District in 2010 and is a frequent commentator on syndicated national media.  She is the Founder of Cybersecurity Salon, an invitation only monthly meeting bridging the public and private sectors on cyber.