Chairman Wheeler, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.
Remarks of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
American Enterprise Institute
June 12, 2014
Thank you to the American Enterprise Institute for convening this important discussion.
I’m honored to be part of a lineup with General Hayden, General Alexander, Chairman Rogers,
Christopher Painter, FTC Commissioner Ohlhausen, and others.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on national security, especially relative to the other speakers you
will hear from today. But I suspect the reason you invited me today is because I do pretend to
know a little something about networks, and our cybersecurity challenge is network-based. Since
the FCC is the nation’s network agency, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on what I
envision as the FCC’s role in addressing network security for the communications sector in the
In particular, I want to address how stakeholders in the communications sector – the sector on
which all aspects of the digital economy depend – must create a new paradigm for cyber
readiness. This begins with private sector leadership that recognizes how easily cyber threats
cross corporate and national boundaries. Because of this reality, the network ecosystem must
step up to assume new responsibility and market accountability for managing cyber risks.
The challenge is that this private sector-led effort must be more dynamic than traditional
regulation and more measurably effective than blindly trusting the market or voluntary best
practices to defend our country. The new paradigm for the communications sector must be real
and meaningful. It has to work. The Commission’s commitment to market accountability will
help ensure that it does work. And, while I am confident that it will work, we must be ready with
alternatives if it doesn’t.
Now, let me pause right here. Before headline writers rush to interpret this as “FCC wants to
regulate cyber,” we need to put these statements in the context of a broader philosophy we’ve
been practicing at the FCC. We believe there is a new regulatory paradigm where the
Commission relies on industry and the market first while preserving other options if that
approach is unsuccessful. The purpose of these remarks is to explain that concept as it applies to
cybersecurity. Basically it boils down to this: identify public goals, work with the affected
stakeholders in the communications industry to achieve those goals, and let that experience
inform whether there is any need for next steps.
Our new information networks are the new economy. Earlier networks enabled ancillary
economic activities. But our growth industries today are based on the exchange and use of digital
information. As such, information networks aren’t ancillary; they are integral. And their security
For all the ways the Internet has already transformed our lives, today’s network revolution is
constantly creating enormous new opportunities to grow our economy, to enhance U.S.
competitiveness, and to improve the lives of the American people.
Yet, these changes also raise new security challenges – challenges that must be addressed if we
hope to seize the opportunities.
Consider the Internet of Things. Every second, about 100 new “things” are connecting to the
Internet – most of which are not people. Soon, we’ll have refrigerators talking to milk cartons
and sending a text message to pick up a new quart on the way home. Cisco forecasts that by 2020
– that’s less than half a dozen years away – over 50 billion inanimate devices will be
interconnected. Expressed another way, that’s 50 billion new attack vectors.
Similar threats continue to grow with mobile apps, social networks, and the other realities of our
rapidly evolving networked world.
And it’s not as if cybersecurity weren’t already complicated enough. Our cyber adversaries do
not fit a particular profile. They run the gamut from those working on behalf of governments to
steal trade secrets and intellectual property, to ideological non-governmental groups with
malicious intent to harm critical infrastructure, to criminal organizations intent on wreaking
havoc and making a profit, to individual hackers trying to steal private information.
The unfortunate reality is that our cyber adversaries worldwide are right at our virtual doors,
ready to break in the moment they sense the opportunity to steal our valuable information –
including personal information - and damage the networks on which we rely.
Everybody in this room understands that tackling the challenges of cybersecurity will require a
joint effort. That means collaboration within the federal government; collaboration between
federal, state and local governments, collaboration between the U.S. and foreign governments;
collaboration between government and the private sector; and even inter- and intra-industry
So what, exactly, is the FCC’s role in this shared endeavor?
The FCC’s responsibility to promote public safety and network security is fundamental. Our
mandate is codified in the Communications Act, which tells us that the FCC was established for
the purpose of, among other things, promoting the national defense, and the safety of life and
Allow me to get wonky for a moment. Our telecom law was last updated in 1996, early in the life
of the new Internet Protocol world. I was there, and I can assure you no one foresaw then the
scope of IP-based communications that we take for granted today.
But the beautiful thing about our communications law is the ability that Congress has given to
this agency to face new circumstances. The drafters of the statute wisely spoke in terms of
effects such as the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” While there are many
proscriptive parts of the statute, it maintains at its core an effects-based orientation.
The challenge of the FCC is to deliver on the national security and public safety effects mandate
as the networks that enable those effects evolve from analog to digital.
The FCC cannot abdicate its responsibilities simply because the threats to national security and
life and safety have begun to arrive via new technologies.
If a call for help doesn’t go through, if
an emergency alert is hijacked, if our core network infrastructure goes down, are we really going
to say, “Well, that threat came through packet-switched IP-based networks, not circuit-switched
telephony, so it’s not our job…”?
We have unique, indispensable expertise and responsibilities when it comes to the
communications sector. So long as I am Chairman, we will work diligently and strategically
with all stakeholders to leverage that expertise and fulfill these responsibilities. Let me describe
how I hope we will be able to build a new paradigm of proactive, accountable cyber risk
management for the communications sector.
The New Consensus. First, the FCC must build upon past Federal and private sector work in
Following President Obama’s Cyberspace Policy Review in early 2009, a robust national
dialogue helped create a new consensus for cybersecurity. Our nation chose proactive private
sector cyber risk management – and all the corporate responsibilities and accountability that go
along with that – over a traditional regulatory approach of prescriptive government mandates.
In February 2013, with the encouragement of many of the legislators who had fought in the
trenches of those debates on Capitol Hill, President Obama issued an Executive Order, which
brought structure to a private sector-driven cybersecurity standards process facilitated by NIST.
NIST’s Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity prompted a depth of
private sector engagement and trust that had not previously existed. The issuance of the
Framework earlier this year has created a tremendous opportunity to make major, meaningful
strides in cybersecurity.
The Framework is a flexible, adaptable approach to risk management that can be applied by
companies of all types and sizes across all sectors. It is not a static checklist. The Framework’s
success will rely on proactive risk management, not reactive compliance with a cybersecurity to-
We have our work cut out for us, but there is now a deep and broad consensus that this approach
is the only workable strategy for securing commercial networks.
Growing cyber threats will test this proposition, so we must together seize the opportunity that
the new consensus presents.
The FCC’s New Paradigm. So how do we, as a regulator, ensure that the communications
sector steps up to the challenge?
I come from the technology entrepreneur and investment world, and I take a business-and-
technology oriented perspective to this policy question.
I firmly believe that we are not as smart, or as fast, or as innovative as the Internet.
The pace of
innovation on the Internet is much, much faster than the pace of a notice-and-comment
We live in an age when a few smart 20-year-olds in somebody’s garage can render standard
technology obsolete within months. And the same is true for the pace of threat technology.
We cannot hope to keep up if we adopt a prescriptive regulatory approach. We must harness the
dynamism and innovation of competitive markets to fulfill our policy and develop solutions. We
are therefore challenging private sector stakeholders to create a “new regulatory paradigm” of
business-driven cybersecurity risk management.
This new paradigm must be based on private sector innovation, and the alignment of private
interests in profit and return on investment with public interests like public safety and national
It needs to be more dynamic than rules, and – this is a key point – it needs to be more
demonstrably effective than blindly trusting the market. “Demonstrably effective” will require a
level of transparency that may make take some time to get used to, but the bottom line is that this
new paradigm can’t be happy talk about good ideas – it has to work in the real world. We need
market accountability on cybersecurity that doesn’t exist today, so that appropriately predictive
and proactive investment is made to improve cyber readiness.
This is a big task, but it is an essential responsibility.
We will be guided by a top notch team, led by the Chief of our Public Safety and Homeland
Security Bureau Admiral Dave Simpson.
We also have created new position of Chief Counsel for Cybersecurity to help Admiral Simpson
navigate the legal and strategic considerations, and Senate Intelligence Committee veteran Clete
Johnson is filling this role.
Rounding out the Admiral’s leadership team is Jeff Goldthorp, who has worked on these issues
at the Commission for more than a decade.
Agency-wide, our Bureau Chiefs and Office Heads are working with the Admiral to “bake”
cyber into the DNA of the Commission. Our activities going forward need to consider
vulnerabilities and impacts from cyber early on and throughout our FCC processes.
OK, so we have a new consensus, a new regulatory paradigm, and a new team. What does this
mean in real terms?
Our work on cybersecurity in the communications sector will be guided by a set of principles.
First and foremost is a commitment to preserving the qualities that have made the Internet
an unprecedented platform for innovation and free expression. That means we cannot
sacrifice the freedom and openness of the Internet in the name of enhanced security.
Second is our commitment to privacy, which is essential to consumer confidence in the
We believe that when done right, cybersecurity enables digital privacy –
personal control of one’s own data and networks.
Third is a commitment to cross-sector coordination. We cannot address these threats in
one-sector or one-agency silos. Particularly among regulatory agencies, we must
coordinate our activities and our engagement with our sector stakeholders.
Fourth, we continue support the multi-stakeholder approach to global Internet governance
that has successfully guided its evolution, and we will oppose any efforts by international
groups to impose Internet regulations that could restrict the free flow of information in
the name of security. The digital economy is global, and this multi-stakeholder
improvement in cyber readiness and market accountability will be a useful template for
others and have positive impacts worldwide.
Guided by these principles, I have directed the FCC staff to organize our cyber activities around
some central pillars:
First, Information Sharing and Situational Awareness. We are examining the legal and
practical barriers to effective sharing of information about cyber threats and vulnerabilities in the
In order to protect companies and consumers against malicious cyber
attacks and intrusions, companies large and small within the communications sector must
implement privacy-protective mechanisms to report cyber threats to each other, and, where
necessary, to government authorities.
And for cyber attacks that cause degradations of service or
outages, the FCC and communications providers must develop efficient methods to communicate
and address these risks.
We’ve witnessed great innovation and progress on these issues in the
financial sector, where institutions of all sizes have worked together to develop ground-breaking
practices for sharing cyber threat information to combat threats in real time.
can be a model for the communications sector to span the large risk and awareness gap between
large and small, urban and rural providers.
We are actively engaged with private sector
Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations, and with our Federal partners – particularly
DHS and the FBI – to increase the efficiency of threat information sharing and improve
To be clear, we seek only to assist and support – not to replace or
duplicate – existing private or public information sharing activities.
Second, Cybersecurity Risk Management and Best Practices. In 2011, our primary Federal
advisory committee on these issues, the Communications Security, Reliability and
Interoperability Council (CSRIC) completed voluntary industry best practices pertaining to
domain name security, Internet route hijacking, and an Anti-Bot Code of Conduct. This was
important foundational work. These standards, if implemented broadly, would “harden” our
nation’s communications backbone against cyber threats with potentially wide-scale industry
implications. In the coming weeks we will be seeking information to measure the
implementation and impact of these industry-defined best practices. In business school, I learned,
“If you can measure it, you can manage it.” I look forward to learning more through these
inquiries as to whether the private sector is taking this issue as seriously as it must.
Building on these efforts, CSRIC is presently hard at work developing risk management
processes to tailor the NIST Cyber Security Framework for the communications sector. This
particular effort, which features the active participation of over 100 experts from throughout the
communications sector, is a landmark initiative – the central proving ground for whether our
attempt to create a new paradigm will succeed. We are asking communications providers to work
with us in setting the course for years to come regarding how companies in this sector
communicate and manage risk internally, with their customers and business partners, and with
the government. This will require a degree of transparency and assurance to give consumers,
fellow providers, the market, and the FCC confidence that internal efforts are proactively
addressing threats to broader public interests.
Third, Investment in Innovation and Professional Development. I have chartered the
Commission’s Technological Advisory Council (TAC) to explore specific opportunities where
R&D activity beyond a single company might result in positive cybersecurity benefit for the
entire industry. In collaboration with academia and communications technology stakeholders,
we will identify incentives, impediments, and opportunities for security innovations in the
market for communications hardware, firmware and software. We also must work with
academia and NIST to evaluate the maturation of our nation’s cybersecurity workforce.
Cybersecurity professionals are among our nation’s most talented, educated and dedicated
workers. We seek to understand the current state of professional standards and accountability
and with our partners understand where the FCC might positively contribute towards further
professionalization of the workforce.
How will we measure success or failure of this new paradigm?
This is the toughest and most important question that our stakeholders have to answer.
We cannot continue on a path that lets individual networks put other networks, American
businesses and consumers at risk.
We need to develop market accountability that doesn’t currently exist.
Unlike financial risk, for which we have several centuries of quantified data on which to draw,
quantitative cyber risk factors are relatively immature.
But that doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and give up.
I have directed FCC staff to work with our partners in the Federal government and the private
sector to gather input on how to measure, assess and manage cyber risk in the communications
Some common success factors are already emerging from that dialogue: First, companies
conduct thorough inventories of their exposure to various cyber risks, internally and with their
partners, Second, they conduct qualitative assessments of their management of those identified
exposures to cyber risk. Third, they seek data from those qualitative assessments to develop
quantitative metrics pertinent to their own internal needs. Fourth, they invest to close cyber
readiness gaps making conscious, measured choices to mitigate risk.
In short: Identify the cyber risk universe, develop internal controls, assess implementation, and
monitor effects. This sounds a lot like how enterprise risk management has always been done
across all risks. Applying it to cyber risk would seem a no-brainer.
Companies must have the capacity to assure themselves, their shareholders and boards – and
their nation – of the sufficiency of their own cyber risk management practices. These risk
assessment approaches will undoubtedly differ company by company. But regardless of the
specific approach a company might choose, it is crucial that companies develop methodologies
that give them a meaningful understanding of their risk exposure and risk management posture
that can be communicated internally and externally.
That is what we are asking our stakeholders
Once individual companies have an understanding of their own risk posture, then we can answer
follow-on questions about the appropriate way to communicate this risk to business partners,
customers, and the public.
We expect this to prompt a virtuous cycle of security, privacy and innovation, in which the
market continually drives to improve these mutually reinforcing values. If so, ISPs will stand for
Innovation, Security, and Privacy.
One last point: solving the technological challenges of cybersecurity is, for all its difficulties, the
easy part. The hard part is changing behavior.
According to one study, 90 percent of breaches in a recent year could have been prevented with
basic or intermediate security measures. People recognize that cybersecurity is a problem that
must be addressed, but too few people are acting on this information – from consumers who may
not know exactly why they need to update their passwords, to C-suite executives who don’t yet
fully grasp the threat that cyber attacks pose to their companies’ viability, nor how they can
match the risk with investment in cyber defenses.
We believe our work can help change behavior, and we expect that stakeholders will rise to this
The communications sector is at a critical juncture. We know there are threats to the
communications networks upon which we all rely. We know those threats are growing. And we
have agreed that industry-based solutions are the right approach. The question is: will this
approach work? We are not Pollyannas. We will implement this approach and measure results. It
is those results that will tell us what, if any, next steps must be taken.
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