CNET News.com has an interview with Greg Garcia, the new assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications in the Department of Homeland Defense -- the country's top cybersecurity official. Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview is where he discusses his plans to call on Congress to create some incentives for companies to invest in better security and training. There's a risk in creating incentives for this sort of thing, since many companies will just focus on creating solutions that comply in order to receive benefits, rather than ensuring something is actually secure. But the idea of creating incentives, or at least removing disincentives, generally makes sense -- perhaps too much sense to survive in Washington. If you consider how courts and governments respond to security breaches that expose people's personal information, it could almost be argued that companies have an incentive not to invest in better security, since they get let off the hook so easily, and when they do get in trouble, the penalties are such a slap on the wrist that it probably makes more sense just to accept them as a cost of doing business, rather than investing in security and changing procedures to avoid paying them in the future. It appears that this is what many companies do already. For instance, in the wake of the recent TJX data leak (which looks like it's the biggest credit-card leak ever), it was revealed that just 31% of retailers follow Visa's regulations on how credit-card info should be handled. But if they don't comply, and lose data, they're not the ones on the hook for fines -- the bank that processes their payments is liable -- so they hardly have any reason to follow the rules. And in any case, Visa assessed less than $5 million in fines last year, which isn't even a drop in the bucket to the banking or retail industry. The incentives in this area are badly misaligned; hopefully this new cybersecurity czar will be able to straighten them out.
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