E-news 2/24/2012

The Silent War on America’s Economy

With justification, American families and business people remain very concerned about their own economic security.  After all, we are mired in the longest period of high unemployment since World War II and they long for an economy that allows them to “get ahead” if they work hard, exercise personal responsibility and play by the rules.   

However, there is an unseen threat to our families’ economic security from foreign states, criminals and terrorists who certainly do not play by the rules nor exercise responsibility.   Indeed, there exists a new brand of warfare - a cyber war - and U.S. businesses and government entities and everyday Americans are targets. 

Of course, cyber security is critically important for our national security.   

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, warned our Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on which I sit, last week that our homeland can never again be considered sanctuary. The reason: cyber attacks.  “I know what we (the USA) can do and therefore I am extraordinarily concerned about the cyber capabilities of other nations,” he said.  “it is one of those areas where at this point we can't place enough emphasis on it until we're satisfied we know exactly what we're doing.”

General Dempsey went on to say that he worried that another nation “could give cyber-malware capability to some fringe group and some hacker another country and the next thing you know could be into our electrical grid,” financial system or other critical infrastructure.  In his typical understated way, General Dempsey said “We have to get after this.”

In addition to my service on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I serve with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  During our many hearings, briefings and investigations on this vital topic, our Chairman Mike Rogers (MI), has been known to declare, “There are two types of companies in this country, those who know they’ve been hacked, and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked.” 

But more than companies are at risk.  Cyber crime is no longer the teenager in the basement hacking into a high school database to change a grade.  It has evolved dramatically.  Today, a whole range of American citizens and organizations are targeted every hour of every day by scheming hackers who are intent on robbing America’s intellectual property and sensitive government information through the Internet. 

Economic predators, including nation-states such as China and Russia, are blatantly stealing business secrets and innovation from private companies.  These, and other criminals and terrorists, are potentially affecting their financial systems, their citizens and our homeland by potentially disabling electrical grids and disrupting law enforcement communications, early warning systems, air traffic, train and mass transit.

Cyber criminals are targeting online accounts, using “malware” to steal log-in credentials and gain access or draining funds through fraudulent electronic-payment schemes.

Clearly, cybersecurity is a major and growing area of concern for everyone.  The last thing our economy needs is relentless cyber attacks against computer systems that support our financial institutions, employers, government entities and our soldiers doing the hard work of freedom.

So how do we wage this war? 

First, vigilance must be the watchword. Every American must be educated and aware that cyber threats come in many forms: an ID thief, a malicious virus, a crook intent on emptying your bank account, or even the homegrown or international terrorist.  In almost every instance, the activities of these individuals are crimes and should be reported to law enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for working with owners and operators of critical infrastructure and key resources —whether private sector, state, or municipal-owned—to bolster their cybersecurity preparedness, risk assessment and mitigation, and incident response capabilities. Many experts believe DHS has made significant strides to enhance the security of the nation’s critical physical infrastructure.  But many suggest that cyber infrastructure and networks continue to remain vulnerable.  My work on House Appropriations Committees leads me to agree.

In New Jersey, the State Police High Technology Crimes Unit includes a Cyber Crimes Unit composed of detectives, civilian analysts, and task forces from other police agencies.  The CCU works closely with the FBI’s various cybercrime divisions.

Secondly, American businesses will be better able to protect their computer networks and intellectual property from cyber attacks if a bipartisan Congress passes, and the President signs, legislation introduced late last year.  I cosponsored the bill proposed by Chairman Rogers which gives the federal government new authority to share classified cyber threat information with approved American companies.

The legislation will help U.S. businesses better protect themselves and their corporate and governmental customers from hackers looking to steal intellectual property. It will empower participating businesses to share cyber threat information with others in the private sector and enable the private sector to share information with the government on a voluntary basis. The legislation also provides liability protection for companies that choose to protect their own networks or share threat information.

Sharing information about cyber threats is a critical step to preventing them. This proposal is a good start toward helping the private sector safeguard its intellectual property and critical cyber networks, including those that power our electrical, water and banking systems.  By permitting the private sector to expand its own cyber defense efforts and to use classified information to protect its systems and networks, this bill will help create a more robust cybersecurity marketplace with expanded service offerings and jobs.

There is no doubt that the cyber alarm bell is ringing, warning us of a new threat to Americans’ personal economic security.   Will we answer?  

                                                                             Rodney Frelinghuysen