Take three steps for the Fourth
On fireworks mishaps, the President's bully pulpit, and changing the password on your Internet router at home
When Americans tell one another to "Have a safe and happy 4th of July!", the "safe" is usually inserted because Independence Day is associated with road trips, boating and other outdoor recreation, and above all, the use (and often misuse) of fireworks.
■ As a country, we're missing out on a significant public-interest opportunity to turn Independence Day into a time of action. It's a flag-waving, Battle Hymn-singing kind of day -- so it should also be a day to enlist the patriotic cooperation of the public in the one form of defense where their contributions can be useful: In cyberwarfare.
■ Civilians aren't of much use when it comes to maintaining guided-missile destroyers or providing forward air control, but ordinary people do have a useful role to play in cybersecurity. And it would take nothing more than the use of the President's bully pulpit to get a response.
■ It would be easy for the President to implore the public to "Take Three Steps for the 4th". For instance, a 2022 set of steps might include activating two-factor authentication on all available applications (especially for email, banking, and social media), changing the default passwords on WiFi routers and "smart" devices in the home, and updating apps and operating systems on all smartphones and tablets.
■ Every year could focus on a different mix of "Three Steps for the 4th", since the threat landscape is constantly evolving, but the biggest net returns would come from asking people to take those steps that nobody can take for them -- the digital equivalent of flossing your teeth. And by linking those security steps with sense of patriotic duty, the government could at least begin to impart the impression that cyberwarfare is different -- and it requires something a lot closer to the citizen militias of the Revolutionary War era than anything else civilians can routinely offer to the national defense.
■ Every Independence Day that passes without such a public campaign is a wasted opportunity. Our most important state-level adversaries, China and Russia, have made it clear they are committed to using cyberwarfare. As China's internal politics risk turning brittle and the toll of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine continues to grow, the odds rise that tools of cyberwarfare will be used against our allies -- and against us. It would be daft not to take precautions on a truly national scale, and America's national holiday is the obvious time to activate our public defenses.