With the threat of destructive cyber attacks on the U.S. increasing, the federal government and the private sector need to establish an effective partnership to defend Americans from a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” warns a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In an op ed column published earlier this week in The Hill, Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and Defense Secretary during the administration of President Barack Obama, wrote that plans established by the current administration to protect the electric grid against cyber sabotage “distract from the real solutions that would truly protect American critical infrastructure.”’
The column, co-authored with former Sen. James Talent (R-Mo.) called on Congress to go beyond 2015 legislation aimed at fostering communication between private companies and the government about vulnerabilities, and to double down on other structural changes such as the establishment of a cybersecurity agency within the Department of Homeland Security.
“Congress must now ensure that these entities have the necessary resources and personnel,” the authors wrote. “The federal government’s inability to retain cyber talent is a serious obstacle to preparedness.”
They recommended that Congress act quickly on pending legislation that allows private-sector or academic cyber experts to work for federal agencies for up to two years.
But they also listed other key challenges, including:
- Developing best practices aimed at segregating business IT systems from systems that control infrastructure;
- Allay industry concerns about possible antitrust violations arising from developing collective responses to cyber threats.
“The threat of a destructive cyber attack that could cost lives is growing every day,” the authors wrote. “Facing limited resources and adversaries that range from nation states to terrorists, government cannot do this alone.”
The column named Russia and Iran as the two most serious cyber adversaries, but they pointed out that U.S. vulnerabilities could be exploited by anyone sitting at a computer able to “deploy cheap but destructive cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure.
“There must be a partnership of government and the private sector if the United States is to effectively defend itself from a cyber Pearl Harbor,” the authors wrote.
Additional reading: FBI Shifts Core Focus to Cyber Threat