- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

MICHAEL SECHRIST Researches Vulnerabilities of Information Networks

  • Joseph Leahy
| Spring 2011

Michael Sechrist,joint Information and Communications Technology/Science, Technology, and Public Policy fellow at the Belfer Center, says Egypt’s wireless and Internet blackout early this month raises serious questions concerning the new measures at the disposal of authoritarian regimes in suppressing political dissent.

“This is a game-changer – certainly for the study of cyber security. We’ve never had a nation so deliberately shut down entire networks before on this scale,” says Sechrist.

In an effort to suppress political unrest, which had been largely organized by the social networking platforms, Facebook and Twitter, the Egyptian government allegedly pulled the plug on 93 percent of the nation’s communications networks for nearly six days.

Sechrist, a former staffer at the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, says the scale and duration of the blackout was unprecedented and underscores the need to establish a “digital trust index” between network providers and governments. He believes the index is needed to rate the degree to which telecommunications companies can operate independently from government control.

Recent high-profile cyber attacks, however, against Google, the Department of Defense and various financial networks in the U.S. have raised debate in Congress over giving the president the power to shut down the Internet during declared emergencies for as many as 30 days.

While Sechrist admits the importance of protecting American networks – especially as the nation’s power grid is upgraded online – he believes U.S. information networks are more secure than some experts argue.  A government “kill switch” would have negative impact on business and internet freedoms, says Sechrist.

“Cyber security is a serious challenge – something the nation should rally around as a significant security threat – but not something that I see that is going to have your microwave jumping off the counter at home.”

A significant vulnerability to our information networks and cyberspace, says Sechrist, lies largely at the bottom of the ocean. An expert on undersea cable communications policy, Sechrist studies the security and economic implications surrounding the undersea communications cable industry. At the Belfer Center, he also contributes to Project Minerva, a Department of Defense-funded, joint initiative between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to study cyberspace

Cable disruptions due to sabotage, natural disasters, or industrial accidents pose serious threats to global security, says Sechrist. In 2010, Sechrist prepared a report for the Department of Homeland Security calling to create the world’s first international public-private partnership to protect undersea cables.  After presenting the report to the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC), the organization voted unanimously to implement the partnership.   Just last month, Australia became the first government to join.

For more about Michael Sechrist, see http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/2223

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Leahy, Joseph. MICHAEL SECHRIST Researches Vulnerabilities of Information Networks.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2011).

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