What upset my stomach this morning wasn't so much the news that Google had partnered with the National Security Administration as it was that Google seems to have felt threatened enough by cyberattacks to do it. Google cherishes its reputation as one of the "good guys." The company counts how the public feels about it and its mission as one of the best things going for it.
And the NSA's public reputation ... You can make the case that among the damaging things caused by recent wiretapping excesses is the fact that a company like Google really has to think seven or eight times before allowing its information caches to be opened up to the federal government. The misuse of the U.S.' digital security capabilities weakened one of the defenses that is much needed on the cybersecurity front.
Of course, Google has to be very, very, very careful about protecting its users' data here. Its relationship with NSA has to be structured to limit things to the minimum of what is needed to track the intrusions into their systems that they cited as the reason why they're considering abandoning China, maybe even appointing some sort of special commission to oversee and ultimately audit the relationship.
But if Google was being accurate in that withdrawal statement and 20 other large companies in the "Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors" were victims of massive cyber-intrusions, then Google earns a little bit of respect for being the lone company (at least publicly) to do the difficult but responsible thing and ask for some government help tracing the attacks back to their sources. A recent report suggested thousands of American companies have been compromised online. Are those other corporations making the judgment that it's better for them and their bottom lines to sweep their cybersecurity weaknesses under the rug? Other companies have made that judgment before. But America's cybersecurity vulnerabilities are in some ways the sum total of those vulnerabilities. Their country needs them to step up and take this stuff seriously.
One big question now, of course, is what happens if and when the NSA traces back these attacks and the road does lead to a foreign government.
-- Nancy Scola
(Photo credit: RabunWarna)