In the 21st century, our lives are more connected than ever. This increased connectivity brings immense benefits to Americans at every level of the economy, supplying everything from increased commercial and educational opportunities to new ways to connect with your friends and family across the globe. But, at the same time, it also makes us more vulnerable. In a world where everything from your phone to your refrigerator is connected to the web, cybersecurity is more important than ever, and yet we are still drastically unprepared for the threats we face.
Cyberattacks and exploitation can come in a variety of forms — and in the last few months, they have hit dangerously close to home. In January, the Times Record reported that the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority’s email systems were hacked, and the hacker attempted to illegally transfer $125,000 from the Brunswick-based organization. And just last month, the Bangor Daily News reported that hackers shut down the computer network in the Augusta City Center in an attempt to extract a ransom from the city. These are serious, real-world examples of the way cyberattacks can strike. But, in reality, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, I spend a lot of time working on the national security threats facing America — and one of the greatest threats we face is that of a large scale cyberattack. Digital infrastructure powers our world in ways you and I often take for granted, ranging from our power grid to our financial sector to our telecommunications network. These attacks can turn off the lights, shut down a hospital, or knock out your phone service — and this damage can be inflicted by adversarial nation-states or non-state actors sitting thousands of miles away.
We need to act now, and establish the policies that will diminish the risk from bad actors who seek to use our own strengths against us.
A serious problem requires a serious, thoughtful response. Fortunately, a group has just been formed to craft the path forward. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was created by last year’s National Defense Authorization Act to develop a consensus on a strategic approach to defending the United States in cyberspace against attacks of significant consequences. I’m proud to say that I have been chosen as a co-chair of the commission, along with Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin. In the coming months, our group will meet on a regular basis to review these threats, develop a set of recommendations, and hold briefings with top congressional leaders to inform them on our findings.
The commission has a lot of work to do — but fortunately, we have the right team to get the job done. This bipartisan commission includes 14 members, including members of Congress, top leaders of federal departments (think the FBI and Department of Homeland Security), and civilians who come from relevant fields. By including this mixture of voices, we can fully understand the scope of the challenge and the resources available to us. Just as important: by including members of all political parties, we can keep partisanship out of our efforts. Protecting our digital infrastructure isn’t a Republican, Democratic, or independent priority — it’s an American one.
Cyberattacks are a serious threat to the American people, and the U.S. government owes it to its citizens to take this challenge head on and map out a playbook to protect our 21st century way of life. Through the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, we’ll work to build a foundation that will not only defend our nation against ongoing cyberattacks but also prevent and deter attacks by adversaries who are considering launching assaults on our essential digital infrastructure. I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date on our work, because this is a challenge too serious to ignore.
Angus King represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.