The threats to cybersecurity

Friday, July 17, 2009

In less than two decades, the use of the Internet and networking-based technologies has exploded and is now part of our everyday lives. Ensuring a secure cyberspace will only become more important as our nation increases its reliance on communication technology.

As the lead Republican on the House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, I have had the opportunity to hear firsthand from experts on cybersecurity and the techniques and technologies used by hackers and cyber-criminals.

The seriousness of this situation cannot be understated. Cyber-attacks have steadily increased over the past decade, and over the last two years alone cyber-crimes have cost Americans more than $8 billion.

These crimes are as different as the criminals who perpetrate them.

In December of 2007, hackers stole data from millions of credit and debit cards of shoppers from a large retail chain. Cyber-criminals also drive cars wired with laptops and other anti-security devices to steal confidential information from wireless users in their own homes.

Earlier this year, it was revealed cyber-attacks on U.S. government networks climbed 40 percent in the previous year. The Pentagon reported more than 360 million attempts to break into its network in 2008.

Most recently, a powerful, coordinated attack successfully disrupted or slowed public access for a limited time to U.S. and South Korean websites. Other targets included the National Security Agency, the State Department, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Washington Post. While some may see these attacks as simply headaches or isolated incidents, they are indicators of a much larger problem.

Basic secure networking is imperative to our economic safety and national security. Until recently, however, our cyber-defense efforts were largely an uncoordinated hodgepodge of various programs and policies.

In early 2008, President George W. Bush established the Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative (CNCI), and President Obama has committed to fully continue this effort in his administration.

The CNCI aims to bring strategic planning, coordination, and additional resources to our nation's cyber-security efforts. It is a comprehensive program designed to strengthen efforts from immediate detection and prevention of network intrusions to counterintelligence, information sharing, and collaboration with the private sector.

This continuity across two very different White House Administrations -- as well as the increased attention to this issue by Congress -- provides an indication of a small but important advantage from where we were just a few years ago. Awareness of this problem and the need for action is now nearly universal.

There is broad agreement on the seriousness and magnitude of our cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the complexity of the technical and policy challenges which must be addressed to overcome them.

However, while there is a consensus on the problem, we are still at the earliest stages of identifying and implementing solutions, and we are working through relatively un-chartered policy territory as we do so.

It is our responsibility as a Congress -- and my commitment as a member of the House Science and Technology Committee -- to ensure we get this right to ensure taxpayer dollars provide a return in the form of lasting and effective security, while also protecting privacy.

The Science and Technology Committee recently finished a series of four hearings in which we examined many aspects of cybersecurity. In the coming months, we will continue to look at our country's vulnerabilities to hackers, how we can secure our Internet infrastructure while protecting individual liberties, and what the role of the federal government should be in combating cyber-crime.

The need is real, the threat is there, and I want to make sure our country's cybersecurity is secure now and in the future.

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