National Security

Cyberattacks – why is the US so vulnerable? This is the big question Congressional Russia probes should be asking

Van Hipp

Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson testified this week to the House Intelligence Committee at a hearing looking into Russia’s efforts to hack our election process. To say that Johnson’s testimony was enlightening is an understatement. Key takeaways from his testimony are as follows:

  • He did not find out about the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016 until months after the FBI and DNC were already in contact concerning the cyberattack.
  • The DNC did not want the help of the DHS.
  • There’s no concrete evidence that Russia’s cyberattacks actually altered any votes.

Johnson came across as an honest public servant, who told the truth and tried to do his job as best he could. He’s right when he says that our election system should constitute “critical infrastructure” and that particular attention in the future should be focused on securing voter registration databases against cyberattack. And he’s also correct when he says cyberattacks “are going to get worse before they get better.”

Winning the cyberwar and protecting our critical national infrastructure, economic institutions and national security apparatus from cyberattack is not a partisan issue.

All of this brings up the one big question that the American people and our government should be asking in the Congressional Intelligence Committees’ probes of Russian shenanigans involving the U.S. election process. Simply put, why was the United States so vulnerable to cyberattack?

We should also ask ourselves what was done, or not done, to prevent cyberattacks during the last eight years. Quite frankly, it was a failure of American leadership and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Cyberattacks are inflicting great harm on America from both a national security and economic standpoint. It’s the most complex national security threat America has ever faced. Our leaders should know the seriousness of this very real threat. However, something is blatantly wrong when the FBI and DHS don’t communicate for many months after a cyberattack, or hack, of a major U.S. political party.

One of the chief reasons the United States has been so vulnerable to cyberattack is because we don’t have a sufficient number of cyber experts in America to thwart the worst kind of cyberattacks. James Gosler, one of our nation’s top security experts, believes that the U.S. only has 1,000 people with the necessary skills to defend the country against the most complex cyberattacks out of the 20-30,000 people required. This is why I’ve long advocated for providing national security scholarships to top computer science and data security majors at U.S. colleges and universities.

Last month, President Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at strengthening the cybersecurity of federal networks and critical infrastructure. The Executive Order is right on point and addresses real cyber concerns. Most significantly, it also focuses heavily on cyber workforce development. This has been long overdue and the president’s Executive Order is a big step in ensuring that America has an adequate workforce to combat our worst cyberattacks. The Executive Order is a good first step by the Trump Administration in doing the things that must be done to defend America against cyberattack. However, much, much more must be done.

The American people elected Donald Trump as their 45th president. The results of four recent special elections for Congress underscore that the American people are tired of “fake news.” They want this president to move forward with his agenda and for Congress to work with him on the nation’s business. President Trump inherited a nation that’s vulnerable to cyberattack and has taken the right first steps to address the issue. It’s time now for both the President and Congress to work together and combat the very real cyber threats and challenges that face our nation.

Winning the cyberwar and protecting our critical national infrastructure, economic institutions and national security apparatus from cyberattack is not a partisan issue. It’s the most complex national security challenge of our time and requires real bipartisan American leadership from both the President and Congress.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army.  He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism:  How to Fight It and Defeat It."  All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen.  www.thenewterrorism.com   Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp