Congress must take cyberattacks seriously

Making sure a computer attack does not cripple the nation's infrastructure is as important as a strong military.


One of the primary roles of the federal government is national defense.

That's one of the few thing most people - whether Democrat or Republican - can agree on. We want a strong military to guard against attacks from a foreign nation or terrorists.

But what about protecting the United States from a cyberattack?

That's not a huge concern to most folks. In fact, the concept is so difficult to fathom that even members of Congress are having a tough time grasping the scope of a potential cyberattack. Who would be attacked? How would it impact the nation? What can the country do to prevent an attack on our computers?

Yet, Congress is trying. It is already drawing critics who believe its initial plan goes too far and those who believe it is not going nearly far enough.

The Associated Press reported last week that a developing Senate plan to bolster the government's ability to regulate the computer security of companies that run critical industries is drawing strong opposition from businesses that contend it's too much regulation. Security experts, however, say the proposal needs to be stronger.

Under the plan, the Department of Homeland Security would select which companies to regulate. The agency would have the power to require better computer security to protect against attacks of U.S. government, corporate and personal computer networks and accounts. The biggest concern is cyberwarriors taking over systems controlling the inner workings of vital parts of the infrastructure, such as water, electrical, nuclear or other power plants.

As much as 85 percent of America's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private companies.

Getting legislation approved and putting an effective plan in place will not be easy. Private companies will understandably be concerned about government intrusion into their operations.

The government must be careful not to impose mandates that are unreasonable or overly costly. But when the private business serves as a contractor for government services or sells a product such as electricity that is regulated by the government for the common good, some oversight is necessary.

"Where the market has worked, and systems are appropriately secure, we don't interfere," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "But where the market has failed, and critical systems are insecure, the government has a responsibility to step in."

Where is that line? We - like Congress - are not sure.

But it's good for the nation this debate is taking place. Cyberdefense is as important to our national security as old fashioned military defense.


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