Why Hillary Clinton's Emails Matter This Year

Clinton's email scandal underscores the threat of security breaches.

Unlike some of Clinton’s critics, I don’t believe that the email controversy is, first and foremost, proof of some deep character flaw that will spell the end of our great nation should she become our 45th president. To be fair, she was not the first secretary of state (indeed the first public official) to engage in this risky behavior. Instead, I view it as the tragic manifestation of where we find ourselves as a nation when it comes to cybersecurity, and precisely why breaches have become the third certainty in life.

President Obama recently unveiled a $19 billion cybersecurity budget for the next fiscal year. This represents a 35 percent increase over the previous year. The White House blueprint is called the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP). Among many initiatives too numerous to detail here, the White House's roadmap includes $3.1 billion for an Information Technology Modernization Fund — money specifically earmarked to provide a much-needed upgrade to the federal government's woefully outdated legacy IT systems.

According to ABC News, the typical private server can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to several thousand. If you could choose between the government’s protections, however flawed, and a private server (and you were a world leader), which would you pick?

A Teachable Moment?

While no one is perfect, data security is an area that requires something verging on perfection. A homebrew server comes nowhere near that level of perfection. The fact that Clinton thought this was an acceptable practice suggests a very concerning interpretation of the cybersecurity problem, as well as an institutional issue, since there should have been a way to force protocol at the State Department.

Here’s the deal: We live in a world where the Office of Personnel Management was breached. We live in a world where the largest corporations in possession of sensitive records pertaining to tens of millions of individuals have been, and continue to be, hacked with more than a billion lives exposed to a host of bad guys in the process and untold amounts of money lost.

And it’s important to remember if you are a consumer, you need to minimize your risk of exposure and do whatever is necessary to detect victimization (for example, checking your credit regularly can be an initial indicator that something’s gone horribly wrong) and put a damage control program in place.

Having said all this, I’m not sure it means that Clinton would make a bad president. While Clinton’s mistake could be viewed as arrogant (at best) and de facto reckless, it is crucial for us to avoid finger-pointing at a time where virtually every digital mishap, data-security giveaway and metadata misfire should be looked at as being so many teachable moments.

The data insecurity quagmire is still in its Wild West infancy, and while it’s easy to throw stones at this glass house, it doesn’t serve to protect us from the dangers posed by hackers.

Levin is chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and IDT911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit. His new book, "SWIPED: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves" was released last fall.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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