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New DOJ task force is sure to solve American cybersecurity problems

Getting tough on cybersecurity - something these guys totally understand.
Getting tough on cybersecurity – something these guys totally understand.

Image: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images

Nothing says cutting-edge digital badassery like a government cybersecurity task force, amirite?

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a new, special cybersecurity task force aimed at combatting global threats and protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference. The unit is being called the “Justice Department’s Cyber-Digital Task Force.”

A DOJ-appointee will lead the group, and work with members from law enforcement and other government agencies to “canvass the many ways that the Department is combatting the global cyber threat.” Canvass, eh?

In the announcement, the DOJ lists a host of issues that will fall under the task force’s purview and also says it will “prioritize its study of efforts to interfere with our elections.” Its primary focus is hardly a surprise, especially after the recent wave of indictments and evidence about Russian election interference that Mueller’s probe recently made public. No one (not even Trump) can deny Russia meddled in our election anymore.

The special task force will also look into (brace yourselves): “efforts to interfere with our critical infrastructure; the use of the Internet to spread violent ideologies and to recruit followers; the mass theft of corporate, governmental, and private information; the use of technology to avoid or frustrate law enforcement; and the mass exploitation of computers and other digital devices to attack American citizens and businesses.” 

The scope of the task force is encouraging, if not a little depressing.

“The Internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments,” Sessions said in a statement.  “I am ordering the creation of a Cyber-Digital Task Force to advise me on the most effective ways that this Department can confront these threats and keep the American people safe.”

Well said, Jeff. But, remind me again why you have anything to do with any sort of committee investigating interference into US elections? Didn’t you recuse yourself from the investigation into Russian election meddling because you were a Trump campaign adviser cough you met with the Russians and lied about it cough?

With Sessions’ less than stellar record on meeting with Russian nationals — representatives of the people who manipulated the internet and breached American cybersecurity in order to inflame public debate, spread fake news, and hack American institutions and voter records — Sessions’ ordering of this task force only kind of undermines its integrity, not to mention its own security. 

However, with cyber attacks on businesses and institutions rampant around the globe, a “task force” that’s, erm, tasked, with updating American response to cyber threats is certainly a good step. Some estimates place the cost of cyber crime above $6 trillion by 2021, and the ability of cyber attacks to cause real world damage has already been proven

But the creation of this task force comes days after the indictment of over a dozen Russian nationals for election meddling. It seems like too little, too late. 

There’s also the worrisome possibility that this sort of task force could compromise privacy in the name of law enforcement, as has often been the government response when technology is implicated in crime. Sessions previously criticized Apple for disallowing the FBI access to the San Bernardino shooter’s encrypted device.

But this isn’t the first time the Trump administration has said they were going toTrump actually signed an executive order on cybersecurity in May 2017 that outlined many of the same aims as the DOJ’s task force (sans election meddling, of course). But in August, over a quarter of the cybersecurity advisory council resigned in response to Trump’s Nazi-neutral statements about the violence in Charlottesville, and his categorical denial of election tampering. They said that Trump’s actions “threatened the security of the homeland I took an oath to protect.” 

Then there was the time Trump floated the idea for a little cybersecurity task force of his own — in partnership with the Russians. This obviously never came to fruition. But just for reference, that’s where America stood on cybersecurity seven months ago.

In light of the new indictments, Trump’s had to walk back his statements on election meddling in recent days. But, predictably, he seems more concerned with avoiding blame than with the nation’s actual security.

America’s cybersecurity is clearly in good hands.

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