U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she would consider having tech companies partner with the government to combat foreign-based attackers, according to an article by the San Jose Mercury News.
Napolitano made the statements Monday during a meeting with reporters, but she declined to say exactly what steps corporations and agencies might take, and emphasized that the idea is merely under consideration, not a concrete plan.
According to the Mercury News, she said restrictions might have to be placed on partners participating in cyber activities because "what you are doing is authorizing a private entity to do what otherwise might be construed as an attack on another entity."
This line of thinking upset some cybersecurity specialists and civil libertarians, the article said, such as Melissa Hathaway, a former top federal cybersecurity official with the National Security Council and the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"The private sector is not allowed to perform what is an inherently government activity" without a law that allows such activity, she said. An electronic pre-emptive strike against a foreign cyber-adversary "could be interpreted as an act of war or armed aggression" depending on who is targeted, she continued.
Others fear that the proactive effort of shutting down an infiltrated computer network might harm others who legitimately use the same network.
Experts have claimed that many cyberattacks on U.S. targets have been launched from China, Mercury News says, and that these attacks have cost corporations billions of dollars and victimized federal agencies. In July, then Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn revealed that "foreign intruders" had stolen "terabytes of data" from defense companies, ranging in topic from specifications of parts from tanks, airplanes and submarines to "our most sensitive systems."