Cybersecurity is Critical to Our Nation’s Infrastructure

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“We must dedicate adequate resources to ensuring that we are protecting our most critical infrastructure – and continued dialogue and cooperation between the public and private sectors at all levels is paramount.”

(Getty Images)
Cybersecurity is the protection of information systems from theft or damage to the hardware, the software, and to the information on them, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX).

We are in the midst of an information revolution at a scale and potential change that is unprecedented in human history. Constant innovation has led to the invention of driverless cars and numerous other self-serving devices. Technological advances in “smart” critical infrastructure have also been increasing, helping satisfy the large American appetite for electricity and water. While these technologies have brought about change, we cannot forget that increasingly complex infrastructure systems also bring about additional surface areas and complex systems that must be protected.

Late last year, numerous outlets reported on a series of unscheduled power outages impacting a large number of customers in Ukraine. It was later confirmed that a cyberattack was responsible for this event. While this incident should not cause immediate domestic panic, it should serve as a stark reminder of growing digital threats at-large and the need to constantly update and invest in hardening our electric grid.

To its credit, the electric power industry has taken the initiative to begin protecting the nation’s electric grid to ensure a Ukrainian-type incident does not take place in the U.S. Starting as far back as 2011, the utility industry, led by Edison Electric Institute (EEI), began a project to assess likely targets for a potential cyber attack and discuss ways in which they can be combatted. The private sector and federal government have continued this collaboration, drawing up mandatory, enforceable standards in which the electric utility industry must abide. The electric sector has also led the way in public-private information sharing through the Electric Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council.

I have also been pleased with the steps that many of the private sector utilities in my congressional district have been taking to improve on their own cyber posture. CPS Energy in San Antonio and other local electric cooperatives have been thoroughly engaged and unwavering in their commitment to cybersecurity. San Antonio, Texas, also known as “Cyber City USA,” has been ground zero for the innovation and healthy business environment that can result from public-private partnerships between academia, commerce, and local governments.

Unfortunately, while the federal government and private sector possess many of the tools and capabilities needed to protect their systems, many state, local and tribal entities do not. In Congress, I have sponsored and co-sponsored legislation to fix this problem. First, I authored H.R. 3869, the State and Local Cyber Protection Act of 2015, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assist state and local governments, upon request, in securing their information systems. Additionally, I co-sponsored H.R. 4743, the Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act, which authorizes DHS to continue its work with leading cybersecurity academic institutions, like the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University, which are working directly with local first responders to ensure proper training is carried out.

Cyberattackers are becoming more aggressive with each passing day. As our systems grow increasingly complex, we must dedicate adequate resources to ensuring that we are protecting our most critical infrastructure – and continued dialogue and cooperation between the public and private sectors at all levels is paramount. I look forward to using my position in Congress to help facilitate these conversations, and ensure that we are prepared to prevent and appropriately respond to the threats we face.

About the Author: A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.