Cybersecurity

McCaul describes a bleak cyber landscape

Wikimedia image: Michael Thomas McCaul, Sr. (U.S. Representative for Texas's 10th congressional district) 

The U.S. is losing the cyber war, says House Homeland Security chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

America's adversaries are turning "digital breakthroughs into digital bombs" and launching them against increasingly overmatched defenses, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee warned on Feb. 14.

During a keynote address at the 2017 RSA conference in San Francisco, Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said that from nation-states to terrorists to faceless hackers, "the combatants are everywhere, and the phones in your pockets are the battlespace."

McCaul said there are five primary reasons why the U.S. is losing the war in cyberspace.

First, he said, is the sheer fact of numbers – there are more "cyber outlaws" than "cyber sheriffs."

"A lot of hackers out there should be behind bars, but law enforcement agencies at all levels are struggling to keep up with the volume and complexity of network intrusions," he said.

Second is the speed and adaptability of technology and threat actors, when the U.S. is fighting back with outdated bureaucracy.

The third problem, said McCaul, is the continued challenge of improving information sharing. He told the largely industry audience at RSA that between the private sector, the government and international allies that all the needed threat data is in hand to stop cyberattacks.

"Yet the sharing is still far too weak," he said. "As a result, the vast majority of cyber attacks go unreported, leaving others vulnerable to the same intrusions."

McCaul said the U.S. still lacks a proper deterrence policy and legal structures to take down cybercriminals and strike back at anyone who invades America's systems.

Lastly, he said, the U.S. needs to find a compromise to the privacy-encryption standoff that does not rely on "back doors."

"This year I will again partner with [Virginia Democrat] Sen. Mark Warner to call for a commission of the nation's top experts -- from academia, privacy, tech, law enforcement, and beyond -- to find real solutions that balance digital security with national security," said McCaul.

McCaul also said he will continue to push for a more "consolidated cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security."

While the Trump administration has floated putting the Department of Defense in charge of protecting U.S. critical infrastructure and more U.S. networks, McCaul said it's essential to reassure the public that federal cybersecurity is run by a civilian agency, not the military or intelligence.

"Just as we do not allow soldiers to police our city streets, we should not have organizations like the military patrolling our networks," he said.

McCaul also reiterated a common refrain from Congress and the executive branch alike -- that the nation needs to prioritize the recruitment and retention of top cyber workers.

Given how many tech companies rely on foreign talent to fill critical positions -- and their concerns about President Donald Trump's executive order banning citizens from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the U.S. -- McCaul stated unequivocally that the U.S. needs to reform the H1-B visa system and to ensure that skilled workers can continue to come to the U.S.

"I will fight to ensure that America continues to extend an open hand to peaceful, freedom-loving people, regardless of where they were born, regardless of how they worship, and regardless of the color of their skin," he said. "That is how we will attract the world's best thinkers to build a stronger country and a more vibrant global economy."

About the Author

Sean Carberry is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence. Prior to joining FCW, he was Kabul Correspondent for NPR, and also served as an international producer for NPR covering the war in Libya and the Arab Spring. He has reported from more than two-dozen countries including Iraq, Yemen, DRC, and South Sudan. In addition to numerous public radio programs, he has reported for Reuters, PBS NewsHour, The Diplomat, and The Atlantic.

Carberry earned a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Lehigh University.


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