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US government green-lights data swapping for security firms

Agencies will not pursue anti-trust charges for trading information

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Security firms looking to share research data with their peers need not fear the US Federal Trade Commission or Department of Justice any more.

The FTC and DOJ issued a joint policy statement on Thursday assuring the security community that they will not pursue antitrust cases against companies that share their security information.

The two agencies said that they will draw a clear distinction between companies who share data with their market competitors regarding security issues and research, and those who knowingly disclose trade and company secrets with competitors in hopes of manipulating the market or fixing prices.

"Because of the FTC’s long experience promoting data security, we understand the serious threat posed by cyberattacks,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement.

"This statement should help private businesses by making it clear that antitrust laws do not stand in the way of legitimate sharing of cybersecurity threat information."

The aim in issuing the statement, said the FTC and DOJ, is to ease the fears of companies who had been hesitant to reach out to others with their security research and attack data out of fear that releasing the information would be considered an anticompetitive act.

The sharing of data has long been considered a tenet of the security community. Firms often share data about new attacks and malware infections with the public and other companies. Vendors have long advocated a cooperative approach which holds that by sharing intelligence with the group, individual vendors are able to make their products more secure and force attackers to try new targets and techniques.

The FTC and DOJ said that such sharing should not risk being stifled by antitrust laws which are designed to stop competitors from working in collusion.

The statement explicitly states "cyber threat information typically is very technical in nature and very different from the sharing of competitively sensitive information such as current or future prices and output or business plans."

Patrick Thomas, a security consultant for Neohapsis, said that the policy statement will be particularly helpful for security firms that work with 'hybrid' platforms which rely on a mixture of public and private infrastructure where regulatory issues can get complicated.

"While anti-trust violations for this sort of sharing probably did not loom large in the minds of most technology-centric companies, it may have held back more heavily regulated industries such as utilities and finance," Thomas explained.

"These are exactly the sort of heavily targeted sectors that benefit from this clear guidance."

Recently, the government has moved to further facilitate the sharing of information by seeking to remove legal hurdles which could restrict companies from sharing data between themselves and with the government.

The CISPA legislation is aiming to clear a different set of obstacles by opening channels between government security agencies and the private sector. Advocates of the law hope that CISPA will allow companies to provide the government with vital information to prevent cyberattacks on public and private infrastructure, while critics charge that the law will further enable the NSA to gather personal information on citizens en masse for its oft-criticized domestic and international surveillance programs. ®

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