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U.S. Cybersecurity Defense Strategy: Solarium Commission’s Mission Explained

The bi-partisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission, comprised of Congressional members, former government officials and private sector executives tasked with forming a wide-angle strategy to defend the nation against cyber attacks, is officially on the job for 2020.

The commission, the offspring of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is named after a Cold War Era initiative during the Eisenhower administration called the Solarium Project created to formulate a strategy to defend the U.S. against threats from the Soviet Union. It is the same with the cyberspace think tank.

“I think we’re trying to cover everything, frankly, short of war,” said commission member Suzanne Spaulding, a former under secretary at the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber unit, at the Digital Government Institute’s 930gov conference, The Hill reported. “To have a strategic approach, you’ve got to make sure that you’re thinking about all of the tools that you have at your disposal, all of the resources, all of the levers that both you and the private sector can contribute and bring to bear,” she reportedly said.

Other commission members include Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), FBI Director Christopher Wray, Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary David Pekoske and Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) co-chair the panel

While the 2019 NDAA gave the commission a September 1 deadline to submit its report to Congress, the House version of the 2020 NDAA calls for a September 1, 2020 deadline and the Senate’s version a February 2, 2020 due date.

In an op-ed blog posted on the Lawfare website, King and Gallagher detailed the organization’s mission and goals. The U.S., they said, has no built-in advantages in cyberspace as the country does with traditional warfare.

“While the information-driven economy and open society of the United States have generated innumerable opportunities, they also leave the country disproportionately vulnerable to malicious cyber actors seeking to steal the sources of U.S. innovation, destabilize the foundations of U.S. politics or threaten critical infrastructure,” the lawmakers wrote. The commission’s goal, they said, is to tackle “big, difficult problems head-on,” including:

  • What are the appropriate roles and responsibilities across the public and private sectors when it comes to securing U.S. information, innovation and critical infrastructure from malicious cyber activity?
  • What is the Department of Defense’s role in this effort?
  • How should the United States and U.S. allies and partners promote global norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace?

Recommendations the panel submits a year from now will be “forward looking and prescriptive, rather than a snapshot report that sits on a shelf,” King and Gallagher wrote. “Today, the United States faces a new and rapidly evolving threat from cyberspace—not one defined by a single nation, as in the 1950s, but rather by a dynamic and far-reaching scope,” said the legislators. “The stakes, however, are no less expansive: the future of the U.S. economy and national security.”

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