The Wall Street Journal recently published an article entitled A Maritime Solution for Cyber Piracy which grabbed my attention. The author, a lawyer who used to work for the Air Force, suggests we may want to look into the concept of letters of marque so as to shore-up the U.S.’s cyber-defences.
Such “letters of marque” (also called letters of permission or of commission) involved a license (permission) granted by the U.S. government empowering certain citizens or groups to participate directly to the defence of commerce or of the nation itself. Though common a few hundred years ago in Europe (and later around America), such permission largely disappeared in the 19th century, as countries acquired navies capable of policing sea lanes without having to resort of privateers to do so. For a time, though, the idea of “privateers” (or “corsairs”) sinking or capturing enemy (or pirate) ships in exchange for reward was fairly commonplace. Faced with security issues they could not deal with themselves, many countries compromised by asking private parties to do what they could not, often with the promise of a bounty or rewards to get the job done.
Recent high-profile cybersecurity incidents seem to indicate we may collectively be faced with a situation somewhat akin to that faced by the U.S. in the 19th century, at a time when the government was unable to itself deal with the nation’s security. Could it be that rampant cybercrime has brought about a similar situation? An argument to that effect can certainly be made.
Interestingly enough, the fact that the NSA is prohibited from watching domestic networks too closely may militate in favour of this idea, so as to fill the gap, so to speak. If the main watchdog cannot act once cyberpirates have penetrated targets in America, one might argue we need help that private parties may be especially well positioned to provide.
Given the growing threat of cyberpiracy, including to some important infrastructure (such as the pipeline recently shut down by a ransomware attack), the author argues that we may want to start looking at the concept of letters of marque. Given the apparent inability of the U.S. government to stop the threat, one might argue it may be time to try and incentive private citizens and businesses to report and go after cybercriminals.
Interesting idea, no doubt. One has to admit we definitely seem to be in need of a new set of solutions if we hope to manage to tackle the issues relating to cybersecurity in a proactive manner. Though I’m not sure how this may work in practice, I think it may indeed be time to start incentivizing private parties to help our collective efforts to thwart cybercriminals.