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Online Businesses Urged To Bolster Cybersecurity Practices

The Department of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force has proposed new cybersecurity standards that include a plan to offer businesses financial incentives to combat security threats.

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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The Department of Commerce has proposed new cybersecurity standards to protect Internet businesses and services providers that aren't part of the U.S. critical infrastructure sector.

A report released Wednesday by the department's Internet Policy Task Force offers a range of cybersecurity proposals for companies in the Internet economy, including a plan to offer businesses financial incentives to combat security threats.

The report also suggests the development of a standard approach to minimizing vulnerabilities and plans to foster public-private sector coordination on the education and research around cybersecurity threats as ways to establish firmer cybersecurity within companies that control information and transactions in the Internet domain.

The report--"Cybersecurity, Innovation and the Internet Economy"--is to Internet businesses what a recent sweeping proposal by the White House for how to create cybersecurity policy is to U.S. critical infrastructure. That one focuses more on securing industries at the core of the U.S. economy and way of life, including energy, financial services, and health.

That proposal also focused more on the roles of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security in steering cybersecurity policy, while the Internet Policy Task Force report gives the Commerce Department the authority to oversee cybersecurity for businesses in the Internet economy.

While securing IT infrastructure for critical infrastructure remains "vital," cybersecurity also must be standardized for key Internet businesses outside this orbit as well, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in an introduction to the report.

"The future of the innovation and the economy will depend on the success of Internet companies and ensuring that these companies are trusted and secure is essential," he said. "This is the area of our focus."

The report defines I3S companies as those that provision information services and content, facilitate a variety of transactional services on the Internet as intermediaries, and store and host publicly accessible content online, among other services.

Via email, a Commerce Department spokesperson described I3S companies as "main-street businesses with online services to Internet-only companies to social networking sites and cloud computing firms that are increasingly subject to cyber attacks."

Following that definition then, Internet-focused companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft--which increasingly are in control of citizens personal and transactional information online--are the targets for the task force's new cybersecurity policy proposals.

The Obama administration has been struggling for some time to standardize cybersecurity policy at the federal level while also encouraging the private sector to set cybersecurity standards without being too heavy-handed and creating policy mandates. Its most recent cybersecurity proposals for the public and private sector are the most targeted and comprehensive efforts to date to do so.

The Commerce Department had scheduled a press conference to discuss the report Wednesday but postponed it until Thursday.

Security concerns give many companies pause as they consider migrating portions of their IT operations to cloud-based services. But you can stay safe in the cloud, as this Tech Center report explains. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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