A group of US and Canadian security experts at RSA conference found themselves at odds when discussing the role government agencies should take in helping private businesses prevent cyber attacks.
The panel, which included former National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA directors, debated just how far governments should go in the name of "national security."
While each panelist noted the need for improved security and dialogue between the government and private sector, each also had concerns about how to go about deciding on such a policy.
Kenneth Minihan, a former Air Force lieutenant general and one-time director of the NSA, argued that with its size and scope, the NSA could play a critical role in helping to advance cyber security in both the public and private sector.
"The agency represents too much capacity that is too difficult to duplicate elsewhere to be on the sidelines on this issue," he said.
"I am comfortable with a dialogue that builds to how do we want to get this part of the team on the field and what will we permit them to do in the name of defence."
That role, however, could be a particularly sensitive issue. While the NSA could help companies ward off attack, actions taken by government agencies against systems owned or controlled by foreign entities could also cause diplomatic headaches.
Ron Deiber, professor of political science and director for Canada's Centre for Global Security Studies, noted that the actions of North American and European governments will be watched closely and could be used to justify more oppressive actions in other parts of the world.
"Governments will legitimise their own activity by what we do," he explained.
"We have to be very careful about the solutions we propose here in terms of what impact they will have in other parts of the world."
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