America needs a good cyber plan

Published 9:04 pm Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Internet is the new frontier in which Americans live, play, and conduct business. With this new realm comes both incredible potential for new opportunities and a host of new challenges. Information is exchanged at the speed of light, but boundaries are elusive.

From the beginning, we’ve attempted to build our cybersecurity approach with siloed objectives. Here are three: We must protect privacy; we have to maintain our international competitiveness; we have to ensure safe browsing by making cybersecurity a core part of our national security strategy. We’ve traditionally treated these as three mutually exclusive issues.

Unfortunately, this approach is ineffective. The Internet is interconnected, as must be our cybersecurity objectives. We cannot address one without addressing the other. As we build a stronger cybersecurity framework, we need to understand the interplay between these issues in the context of the massive cyber challenges we face today.

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It begins with a proper understanding of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment guarantees that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Americans’ right to security cannot come at the cost of their constitutional right to privacy.

While our government has a responsibility to protect Americans from cybercriminals and terrorist organizations that abuse the capabilities of the Internet to invoke harm on Americans and our allies, we cannot do it at the expense of public trust.

Any cybersecurity-related framework must have the Fourth Amendment as its core guiding principle. If the government fails here – for example, by becoming intrusive and disrespectful of the American people’s fundamental rights and liberties – then we cannot achieve our objectives.

Second, creating a stronger cybersecurity framework involves understanding the threats. Cybercriminals are evolving every day and challenging the latest cybersecurity technologies faster than ever before, obtaining valuable information such as health records, Social Security numbers and credit cards.

Hackers can cause damage and raise alarms, but state-sponsored attacks pose a new form of warfare, deadly in the way they can exploit government agencies, critical infrastructure and public companies. It is crucial that we equip law enforcement and our military with the tools they need to fight cyber threats.

A multi-faceted cybersecurity strategy must also ensure local, city, and state governments are prepared for, and protected against, attacks. The Sony cyber attack last year, which many believe was sponsored by North Korea, gives us a glimpse into one of the many types of attacks that may be executed when unpredictable states feel provoked.

We also learned the White House and the State Department’s networks were probably penetrated by sophisticated Russian hackers. Unfortunately, government agencies and many companies are still not fully prepared to defend against such attacks, leaving our government and economy incredibly vulnerable.

However, citizens also must be equipped to protect themselves and their families. This includes access to educational tools to recognize cybercrime and safeguard against it.

Simple steps like regularly changing and creating diverse and elaborate passwords for online accounts, securing home Wi-Fi networks, and securing sensitive data from phishers will be increasingly important as we move into the future, not only to personal safety but also to our collective society and economy. The more connected we become, the more important individual responsibility becomes in securing personal information.

While it may seem like America’s debates over cyber are crowded with competing goals – protecting privacy, ensuring international competitiveness, and providing for national security – the reality is these goals are not mutually exclusive.

Our aim should be a cybersecurity framework that pushes us to address these challenges simultaneously and seamlessly. We must create a cybersecurity framework to adapt to the changing landscape, take a proactive posture, ensure our security, and – most importantly – reassure all Americans that our rights are being respected.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at