Approved For Public Release – July 2014
Op-Ed - Imagine This….
Imagine a cyber attack. Your lights and power are out, your business fails, your transportation is gone, your government services stop, your life savings disappear, your Internet and communications are down, or it is something even worse. We are dangerously close to crashes like these.
A “lack of imagination” described our government’s posture before terrorists used airplanes to attack America on our own soil. As career FBI Agents, we know this too well. Our Nation must remain vigilant in the war on terror, but imminent cyber threats must also be addressed as a top priority. Despite the best efforts of many, our government’s imagination still lacks, and we see a lack of urgency.
FBI Director James B. Comey has spoken about cyber threats as a top FBI priority, noting that Americans face threats from state-sponsored hackers, hackers for hire, organized cyber syndicates, and terrorists. The bad guys are going after our technology, our ideas, and they are clearly in a position to strike our critical infrastructure and our economy. The FBI is working side-by-side with law enforcement, government, and private sector partners who also recognize the threat. Countless personnel are working around the clock, under current legal authority, trying to prevent attacks with limited budgets, personnel, and a lack of sufficient prioritization across departmental lines.
Recent events highlight the dire threat. Chinese military personnel, and known state actors, were indicted in Pennsylvania for computer hacking and economic espionage directed at victims in the U.S. nuclear power, metals, and solar products industries. Charges were announced in connection with Blackshades malware that infected more than half a million computers around the globe. The GameOverZeus botnet, a global network of infected victim computers used to steal millions, was disrupted. Computer servers central to malicious Cryptolocker ransomware were seized. And, many citizens have experienced the deleterious impact of hacking on business and consumers as witnessed with Target and other retailers.
U.S. laws and policies are simply not keeping up with the fast-changing world, and the “disconnect” between today’s leaders and this generation of techies is obvious. Despite the growing number of cyber attacks, Congress is unwilling or unable to address the problem. It has been 12 years since Congress passed any major cyber security legislation. Such inaction makes the jobs of law enforcement and intelligence officials more difficult.
Smart people are working on solutions, but the sense of urgency has not yet resonated with the public. This malaise may be due to a lack of confidence in Congress, disinterest in hard news, concern about the hefty price tag, public outcry over government data collection, and general complacency.
Leadership, action, and public engagement are overdue. We need bipartisan, problem solving in Congress to pass legislation that will promote sharing of information between the private sector and the government, with strict and serious oversight. We need more serious partnerships between these sectors, better interagency cooperation, and clear jurisdictional lines. The Senate Intelligence Committee recently approved a cybersecurity bill to encourage information exchange, but this and similar legislation in the House face hurdles to passage.
Finally, the FBI needs additional resources and authority to lead the overarching, “whole government,” team approach that is necessary if investigators are to be proactive rather than reactive. Clearly, the FBI is the best and only agency equipped to lead this joint law enforcement and national security challenge. The FBI already is in every community in America, has a global footprint, and has jurisdiction beyond the scope of other agencies.
We cannot afford to pass this problem off to our kids. It will be too late if we wait. Imagine the day when the lights do go out and they ask, “How could this happen?” Do we really want to tell them we knew it was coming, and we did too little, too late? Tell your government leaders to address cyber threats as an urgent priority.
President, Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI
Ellen Glasser is president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, an organization of more than 8000 former and active FBI agents. She served for 24 years as a special agent and supervisory special agent with the FBI.