As Americans wait in line at gas pumps across the country, many will see for the first time how devastating cyber attacks can be on our way of life. While these attacks against our country have been going on for decades, the seriousness of this recent attack on one of America’s largest gas pipelines should serve as a wakeup call for our nation.
For all practical purposes, any cyber attack against our nation’s critical infrastructure – infrastructure that Americans depend on for their way of life – should be viewed as a major terrorist attack, and receive an equally strong response from our government.
As a congressman and now senator, I have made several observations: First, the vast majority of cyber attacks originate from hostile countries, namely China and Russia.
Second, federal agencies and private businesses continue to lack coordination, often not sharing enough information and solutions on how to fight off Russian and Chinese hackers intent on stealing intellectual property and trade secrets.
We let these cyber terrorists go unpunished, and pay little or no attention to their failed attempts and successful attacks. They steal our intellectual property, trade secrets and classified information with zero consequence. We continue to remain reactive, rather than proactive. This inaction is not consistent with American justice and values.
Sadly, America’s indifference to these attacks from our adversaries proves to them, “if the bank vault is open, the gold is ours for the taking.”
On the other side of the coin is how America will deal with cyber terrorism coming from within our adversaries’ borders, but denied by their leaders. One should realize nothing happens within Russia and China’s borders without the government and military knowing, and usually abetting. Does anyone really believe a major cyber attack carried out in Russia against American critical infrastructure without Vladimir Putin turning a blind eye? The common sense answer is of course not.
Similar to some nations allowing terrorist operations to exist and grow within their borders, China and Russia turn their eyes away from their own cyber terrorists; actively promoting a culture of theft and sabotage that benefits these organized crime organizations.
We need an all of government approach, to engage, solve and punish those who would try to engage in cyber attacks. And, if the Kremlin and Chinese Communist Party have nothing to do with the hackers within their borders, then I’m sure they would be more than happy to extradite these terrorists to America so they can be prosecuted to the fullest.
The terror attack on our infrastructure last week once again shows why it is so important that any infrastructure plan Congress considers not only builds stronger and more dependable critical infrastructure for our country but also creates resiliency and protects it from future cyber attacks. This could include building vital lifelines for our economy – such as the 14 interstate gas pipelines pending final approval at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Congress must make it a top priority to ensure new infrastructure is able to fight off cyber attacks such as the ransomware attack used by hackers to extort Colonial Pipeline.
It could also include greater coordination between the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and our National Network of Fusion Centers, state-owned centers that share information on threats to our homeland security between the intelligence community, state governments and private sector. Those in the private sector first need to be able to trust the federal government when it comes to sharing cyber information. The future of deterring cyber attacks will depend on a whole of government approach working hand in hand with businesses.
Focusing on the future is the only way to ensure Americans are once again energy independent and have reliable, dependable and affordable energy. We have to strike back to deter future cyber terrorism – and create peace through strength on this new, cyber war front. The U.S. cannot idly stand by while we are attacked and taken advantage of. We will punish our enemies and hold them accountable, whether they hide in a cave or behind a computer. Our safety and security depends on it.
Roger Marshall serves as the junior United States senator from Kansas.