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Cybersecurity, the existential threat facing our nation

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Mike Simpson

The recent ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline and JBS are just the latest salvos in an ongoing digital war that is putting innocent citizens in its crossfire. Just as the U.S. Intelligence Community once warned about al-Qaeda, they are now publicly sounding the alarm over the cyber capabilities of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Our adversaries see cyber vulnerabilities and sabotage as the best opportunity to gain a strategic advantage against us. It’s time we take these threats seriously and address cybersecurity as the most pressing national security issue of our time.

The energy sector, including the power grid, oil and natural gas pipelines and renewable energy systems, is among the most vulnerable to a cyberattack. Our adversaries are making rapid daily advances in hacking and ransomware capabilities, and we must dedicate the time and resources necessary to stay ahead of this threat. That is why I recently urged Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to keep cybersecurity as a top focus of the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy’s best resource against a crippling cyberattack is one of its own national laboratories. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is a world leader in securing industrial computer technology from the kinds of cyberattacks that took down Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 and 2016. It works with industry to assess and improve technology against threats like those that turned off the safety systems at petrochemical plants in Saudi Arabia in 2017. And, it has the expertise to advise and train organizations how to avoid the conditions that Europe experienced when malware locked up their banks, ports and manufacturing facilities.

Idaho has long been a leader in cybersecurity development. In 2002, Sen. Larry Craig and I secured funding to establish INL’s Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex. This location allows lab researchers to test the digital security of power and water systems at full-scale. In 2004 and 2005, we also secured funding to build a control systems test facility that paved the way for INL’s energy-cyber missions. And since 2014, I’ve worked to ensure the laboratory’s electric grid test bed received the necessary funding to create a demonstration environment for government and private industry.

I’m proud to represent INL and the thousands of workers dedicated to protecting America’s energy and national security. But no organization can tackle these challenges alone. Solving the threats we face requires a new vision, leadership and accountability at the highest levels. It requires greater transparency and reporting when cyberattacks are detected. And it requires more knowledge and education for today’s workers and tomorrow’s students.

Thankfully, cybersecurity is a bipartisan issue and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns. Now, it’s time we act. America is a strong, innovative country. But when it comes to cybersecurity, we’ve been lucky to avoid an even worse attack. President Biden will meet with Vladimir Putin later this month. I urge the President to hold Putin to account for the growing global threat emanating from within Russia. I also encourage my colleagues to become familiar with the important work the national laboratories are doing to secure our nation’s critical infrastructure. Together with industry, we can strengthen our defenses against cyber criminals and protect citizens from this ongoing, and increasingly dangerous, threat.

Mike Simpson is a Congressional representative and Republican representing Idaho’s 2nd Congressional district.

About Mike Simpson