EDITORIAL: Nation needs action on cybersecurity bill
Dec 02, 2012 (The Daily Star-Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
CenturyLink "cybersneezed" Wednesday night and The Daily Star-Journal's Thursday issue nearly died, which offers backdoor insight into a pressing national problem that needs a bowl of Chicken Soup for the National Defense.
When CenturyLink went down, The Star-Journal -- and hundreds of thousands of other CenturyLink customers in 16 states -- lost the ability to communicate. Average customers could not chat on Facebook, or lost hotly contested battles for eBay items. For commercial customers, including The Daily Star-Journal, the situation hampered the ability to exchange vital e-mail business documents.
The Star-Journal made adjustments and managed to print in-house and clients' newspapers. Within a few hours, CenturyLink got Warrensburg back on line. But what if those hours had turned into days With Internet communication representing an integral part of doing business -- not just sending memos, but making stock deals and sending wire transfers worth billions of dollars -- the nation is susceptible to a financial and possibly a defense meltdown if cyberspace, for whatever reason, collapses.
This is no revelation to national leaders. The United States -- in ways great and small -- for years has dealt with hackers, thieves and would-be cyberterrorists, the latter wanting to cripple the nation's cyber-based economy, power grids, water supplies, passenger trains, air travel and defense.
Based on comments from national leaders, the need to deal with cyber-based threats is in the orange or possibly the red terrorism level. But due to business concerns, the bill lingers in congressional Purgatory, causing some to wonder whether President Obama will bypass Congress and act by executive order.
The bill calls for a National Cybersecurity Council to safeguard systems against attackers. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce frets a council might hamper business. The chamber may be right. For a time, perhaps, businesses could be hurt. But a greater threat to business -- and the entire nation -- is a cyberattack, perhaps using a "super virus" that destroys not only e-commerce but also defense systems.
The nation needs a council in place to make cyberdefense rules, tweaking them as needed, versus kicking the can down the road until either a "perfect" bill is in place or a catastrophe waylays the nation. The public knows from harsh experience what happens when politicians reject regulations, because everyday people still suffer due to the lack of oversight that led to chaos in the banking and housing sectors.
Published comments from national leaders show the pressing need for cybersecurity:
-- "Sometimes we need to make decisions that the chamber of commerce isn't happy with," Sen. John Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said. "... It's not the chamber's job to worry about national security. That's the job of our military, and they have been quite clear about what's needed."
-- "Every day that we wait, our country becomes more vulnerable to a serious cyberattack -- indeed, a catastrophic attack," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.
-- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated, "If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant, physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us to defend this nation when directed by the president," and "They are targeting the computer-control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country. We also know that they are seeking to create advanced tools to attack these systems and cause panic and destruction and even the loss of life."
Such comments suggest the nation needs a cybershield in place yesterday, not tomorrow.
The inconvenience felt by tens of thousands of customers when CenturyLink went down merely hints at the longterm, nationwide havoc a full-scale cyberattack could cause.
If Congress does not act, soon, then Obama should. Continuing to provide a business-friendly environment is desirable, but should never trump national security.
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