In the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Congressman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) warned that the United States must remain vigilant about cyber attacks from foreign countries that would threaten Americans in vital ways.
McCaul cited the fact that Mandiant, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, said China was responsible for nearly 90% of cyberattacks against the U.S., including one last fall that attacked a company providing remote access to at least 60% of North America’s oil and gas pipelines.
McCaul noted the hackers’ attack on the U.S. Air Traffic Control system in 2009, the al Qaeda operative threat last year for “electronic jihad” against the U.S., last year’s Iranian attack on Saudi Aramco to stop Saudi Arabia’s oil production, and this year’s Iranian denial-of-service attacks on major U.S. banks.
Describing the tactic by American enemies of weakening the nation’s defenses by “prepping the battlefield,” McCaul quoted Stephen Flynn of Northeastern University:
When transformers fail, so too will water distribution, waste management, transportation, communications and many emergency and government services. Giving the average of twelve-month lead that is required to replace a damaged transformer today with a new one, if we had a mass damage of that scale at a local regional level the economic and society disruption would be enormous.
McCaul suggests that the executive branch be given the authority by Congress to provide the necessary liability protections so that industry can share cyberthreat information with the federal government. He also suggests the Department of Homeland Security should become a nerve center for sharing cyberthreat information with owners and operators of critical infrastructure.
Homeland Security already has the ability to provide real-time information necessary for instant threat detection, and to share emerging threat information to enable industry to act immediately to safeguard critical infrastructure. However, legislation that encourages participation by streamlining processes and reducing legal uncertainty for industry is necessary to help the public and private sectors be more responsive and accountable. In the process, lawmakers must take care to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.