Rockefeller: Don’t Wait to Address Perilous Cyber-Threats

Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:15pm

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but one of the greatest threats to our economic and physical security is just a mouse click away.

The vast array of cyber-threats facing our country grows each day and is a threat not just to big companies and their intellectual property, but also to the nation’s most critical infrastructure, from gas pipelines to the electric grid.

The Internet has made the world more connected than we could have ever imagined. This development has brought forth extraordinary opportunities for our country, but it has also brought serious challenges.

A terrorist or hacker on the other side of the world could now do great harm to our country by using the Internet to access systems that control our most critical infrastructure.

National security experts have called cyber-attacks the No. 1 threat to our country. The bottom line from all of them — Democrat and Republican — is that the cyber-threat is a real and present danger.

Hackers supported by the governments of China and Russia, and sophisticated criminal syndicates with potential connections to terrorist groups, are able to crack the codes of government agencies and businesses, including Fortune 500 companies.

Experts warn that we’re on the brink of a disaster on any given day from a computer-generated catastrophe. Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the cyber-threat is the only other threat on the same level as Russia’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. And FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress recently that the cyber-threat will soon overcome terrorism as the top national security focus of the FBI.

Cyber-threats and the prospect of a widespread Internet attack could be as devastating to this country as the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Think about how many people could die if terrorists were to attack our air traffic control system, causing planes to slam into one another. Or if our rail-switching networks were hacked, causing trains carrying people — or hazardous materials — to collide in some of our most populated urban areas. Or water supplies were contaminated? Or hospitals were to lose electricity?

Congress can act now or we can wait and face the consequences of our inaction. Working with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), we’ve written legislation that strikes a balance in addressing the dangers we now face without undue regulations on business. The process was good — blending ideas from three Senate committees and the input of many Senators and stakeholders. Anyone with an opinion was consulted and given a chance to shape our bill.

Directors of the National Security Agency under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have urged Congress to protect our most critical infrastructure. Our bill does just that — by identifying facilities, such as utilities, hospitals and dams, that are most vulnerable to devastating cyber-attacks.

Our proposal creates no new bureaucracies, promotes innovation by the private sector and encourages private-sector leadership and accountability in securing their own networks, with government assistance if necessary. There are many different ways to protect these systems, and we remain open to all good ideas. We absolutely must find consensus on this issue and pass a bill that protects these critical systems.

We can’t lose sight of the threats we’re facing and why these efforts are so crucial to protecting our country. In the months leading up to 9/11, our national security systems warned us about the possibility of a terrorist threat. And we paid for doing nothing.

Today, these clear warnings are again in front of us. This time we know better, and there is no excuse for waiting for safeguards to protect this country and our people.

I urge the Senate to act now.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is chairman of the Commerce Committee.