President Joe Biden’s meeting with tech leaders and the creation of a US digital corps this summer were important steps toward a more robust cybersecurity infrastructure. The cybersecurity threat coming from America’s adversaries, namely China and Russia, is dangerous and growing.
Yet in the face of these mounting threats, some members of Congress are pushing legislation that would hamstring innovation necessary to maintain America’s technological edge. This would be a serious mistake and a major setback in America’s ability to leverage our tech edge to prevent future cyberattacks.
Cyberattacks do not exist in a digital vacuum — they carry consequences that reverberate at both the national and local level and that are felt by businesses and communities. Earlier this summer, tens of millions of Americans felt the pain at the gas pump when a cyberattack shut down the Colonial pipeline that provided 45% of oil to the East Coast. The tactics used in the Colonial pipeline attack were similar to those used by another gang of cyber criminals in the Kaseya ransomware attack in July that resulted in a Maryland town, among many others, grinding to a halt.
As part of the massive attack on Kaseya, the small town of Leonardtown was figuratively held hostage when attackers breached the local government’s IT management system. The entire function of town governance, from staffing to billing, was affected, requiring days to fully recover essential data.
The Leonardtown attack is just one snapshot that illustrates the unique vulnerability associated with an increasingly interconnected digital world. As our digital surface area grows, so too do the threats to it. Our Chinese and Russian counterparts are working overtime to exploit the internet with the intention of stealing vital government information, threatening our national security and the economy. Collaboration between America’s leading tech innovators and the U.S. government is one of our best defenses in ensuring the U.S. can meet increasingly sophisticated cyberthreats with necessary strength.
Allowing our tech sector to innovate not only strengthens our national security by equipping us with tools to detect and deter cyberattacks, it also carries enormous benefits for national and state economies. In Maryland alone, the tech industry has a $45 billion impact on the economy. Tech workers make up roughly 11% of Maryland’s workforce, and tech job wages, which average $100,865, represent tens of thousands of high-paying jobs.
We know America’s tech sector drives innovation vital to cyber and national security efforts and creates good paying jobs. Of course, we should find smart policy solutions that both strengthen our ability to innovate and include appropriate regulations. But crippling America’s tech sector with misguided antitrust legislation will subject American companies to rules that do not apply to state-owned enterprises. We must not handcuff America’s innovators while simultaneously giving our adversaries a leg up. The result will be a dangerous combination: kneecapping a key asset for U.S. cyber and national security capabilities while empowering the very entities who are often behind these threats.
The willingness of the Biden administration to meet with tech leaders and invest in our human tech capital is a step in the right direction. Now Congress must realize that working alongside, not against, our tech innovators is critical to combatting cyber threats. To do otherwise will leave us vulnerable to our global adversaries and another Leonardtown.
Frances Townsend, Washington, D.C.
Frances Townsend is the former White House Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. Townsend serves on the National Security Advisory Board of the American Edge Project.