SEN. MARK WARNER seems to know better than anyone in Congress that nothing gets done without bipartisanship and cross-chamber cooperation. With that in mind, the Virginia Democrat has gone about assembling a large pool of co-sponsors to back his initiative to improve the nation’s cybersecurity, one of the nation’s premier challenges.
Warner has teamed up with Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, and gathered a mix of 43 Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate to push legislation that would establish a National Commission on Security and Technology Challenges.
The panel would include “tech leaders, law enforcement, the intelligence community, privacy and civil liberties advocates, computer science researchers, and global commerce leaders” who would search for cybersecurity solutions.
The current controversy involving the alleged meddling by the Russians in last month’s presidential election is the perfect backdrop to the introduction of the Warner/McCaul legislation. That, plus ongoing concerns about communications among terrorist figures inside and outside the United States, not to mention some nefarious techno-whiz working out of his mother’s basement, has made defending against hacking and breaches of digital or cyber security the Cold War of the 21st century.
As a veteran of the high-tech telecommunications industry, which made him a millionaire many times over, Warner has the right stuff to point a new commission in the right direction. He brings to the table an understanding of both the industry and the technology that now run the world.
Current events underscore the challenge. It’s a cat-and-mouse game in which the stakes are extraordinarily high and the rules can change from one minute to the next. How do we make sure that information is encoded such that we bar its access by our enemies while we share it among ourselves and with our friends? How can we ensure that there are no holes in the shield, despite the constant efforts of countless hackers around the world to find one?
The challenge was summed up in the first report earlier this year by the Virginia Cyber Security Commission established by Gov. Terry McAuliffe:
“Foreign governments and criminal enterprises are engaging in illegal hacking on a massive scale, stealing billions of dollars, committing widespread espionage against governments and corporations, stealing citizens’ identities, and threatening to disrupt or destroy networks that are essential to our economy, national security, and way of life.”
Given this stark outlook, it’s important that the many panels established to study the matter share information and avoid working at cross-purposes.
Just last week, a commission created by the Obama administration released a list of 16 recommendations that it says are urgently needed to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. President Obama envisioned the panel’s work as providing the incoming president and his administration with key areas of concern, and he urged the next president to make addressing them a top priority in his first 100 days.
The panel’s list included naming an assistant to the president on cybersecurity, appointing a cybersecurity ambassador to open global lines of communication and set international rules, finding alternatives to traditional passwords, ending identity theft by 2021 and training 100,000 new cybersecurity workers by 2020.
Given his penchant for making his own rules, and the rocky start he is having with some in Congress as it moves to investigate the Russian election hacking, it hard to say whether President-elect Donald Trump will follow his predecessor’s advice or concur with any recommendations the Warner/McCaul commission comes up with.
We would urge leaders at all levels to make this a cooperative effort, despite the disagreements that are bound to arise over any plan of action and how to execute it.
Suffice it to say that Americans are counting on the nation’s smartest and most computer-savvy individuals to come up with fail-safe methods of protecting government, corporate and personal information. It is not hyperbole to say that our future depends on it.