On June 24th, the National Journal hosted an educational event that covered a variety of concerning trends in the ever-expanding digital world. Specifically, speakers and panelists addressed how increasingly alarming cybersecurity risks are affecting our nation and our government.
The first speaker to take the stage was Congressman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. The congressman gave an overview of the many threats that the United States faces today, as well as the difficulties entailed when trying to catch suspected terrorists. He explained that ISIS currently generates thousands of Twitter threats each day, and those numbers are only expected to rise. These “cyber-jihadists,” as they are called, know how to work the inner-web and can move to the so-called “dark space” to avoid monitoring or detection. McCaul also emphasized the need for data encryption following the recent OPM breach, which was attributed to antiquated computer systems that could not support newer encryption methods.
Additionally, the congressman criticized the Obama administration for not being tough enough on cybersecurity when it so directly affects national security. He was especially critical with regard to China, arguing that the administration acts scared and accusing Obama of trying to “talk it out” instead of laying down ground rules. “We have to get to a point where the rules of the game are understood in cyberspace, because there aren’t any, currently,” McCaul said. “Right now, China is getting away with impunity because there will be no consequences. Russia – no consequences. Iran.”
Next to speak was the Honorable Sarah Raskin, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She gave an overview about how the government currently manages the risks of cyberattacks, and the costs of managing such risks. Cyber issues are constantly evolving, which makes for a never-ending struggle. When asked about the worst-case scenario for a potential cyber threat, Raskin described a cyberattack that could hack the power grid and effectively freeze the United States economy. Such an attack would result in job losses and a major economic downturn. She also emphasized that the very nature of cyberattacks is delicate – while the majority of attempts may be thwarted, it takes only one successful attack to cause overwhelming damage.
A panel of five cyber experts then took to the stage for a spirited debate about the Cyber Security Information Sharing Act, each sharing their biggest cyber concerns. Robyn Greene, the policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation, outlined her reservations about CISA. She does not believe that the privacy protections in CISA are strong enough, and said that having too much information shared will mean that a lot more must be done to uncover relevant information. Matthew Eggers, Senior Director at the National Security and Emergency Preparedness Department in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, disagreed with Greene. He argued that the information sharing put forth by CISA is necessary to protect against foreign attacks and potential terrorist threats.
Richard Bejtlich, Chief Security Strategist at FireEye, said that the focus of the United States should be to find others “in our house already” and to eliminate threats that already exist. Despite their diverse approaches, all panelists, including Robert Knake, Senior Fellow for Cyber Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Joshua Spence, Chief Information Security Officer at the West Virginia Office of Technology, agree that cyber security is of the utmost importance to the nation’s continued security.