By Senator Saxby Chambliss
This month, a group of 12 prominent former U.S. national intelligence officials joined together to warn Congress of the dangerous path it’s heading toward if it adopts legislation that would hinder the United States’ ability to compete with China and other foreign adversaries in the global tech space.
The risks, compounded by economic security challenges brought on by the pandemic, come as China is actively seeking to take over the world stage and surpass the United States in its quest to dominate the global digital landscape.
Also this month, we marked 20 years since our homeland was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. So much has changed in the 20 years since that fateful day, but one thing has not. We live in the greatest country in the world, and there are those around the globe who are constantly looking for ways to tear us down and disrupt our way of life.
One example is ransomware and other malicious cyberattacks that have been on the rise in recent months. Businesses small and large, along with local, state and federal agencies have become the targets. As new and evolving threats emerge, we must use every asset available to us to strengthen America’s defenses.
Even Iowa has seen its share of ransomware attacks. New Cooperative, a farm services business headquartered in Fort Dodge, this month was the target of ransomware group BlackMatter. The Russian-based criminal group took over critical information systems and demanded a $5.9 million ransom for returned access. New Cooperative eventually found a workaround to escape the ransom threat, but other Iowa companies have not been as fortunate.
Des Moines cybersecurity firm ProCircular was scammed out of $265,000 by cyber criminals earlier this year. About 500,000 current and former patient records were exposed when cyber criminals hacked into the database of an Iowa-based eye clinic in February. And meat company JBS, the world’s largest, paid $11 million in ransom after cyber criminals overtook their systems, stalling production for days.
Today’s cyber terrorists lurk in the corners of the internet, where they’re constantly looking for new ways to attack. We have to stay one step ahead of them.
American citizens, businesses and government agencies depend on technology to support all aspects of life, including our robust agriculture industry, supply chain and food security, critical infrastructure operations, and a military that is strong and prepared to respond when threats emerge.
Apart from supporting our national defense, technology also kept many Iowa businesses afloat during the pandemic and social media and online tools helped families, friends and co-workers stay connected.
American technology companies play a crucial role securing our U.S. cyberspace and protecting critical data. By imposing harmful restrictions on our largest tech companies and ultimately giving foreign competitors an upper hand, we are handing our global tech leadership to China.
Just this month, a member of the FBI’s Cyber Task Force warned the Greater Des Moines Partnership about our country’s shortcomings in responding to cybercrimes. Agent Ken Schmutz called our cyber laws “way behind the times” and urged Congress to address these challenges.
Instead of undercutting our ability to innovate and respond to new and emerging threats, Congress should be focused on improving our cyber laws and bringing all parties to the table to discuss how current legislation could negatively impact our national security. We can’t afford to let China get ahead while leaving our homeland vulnerable to attack.
Saxby Chambliss is a former U.S. senator from Georgia and current advisory board member of the American Edge Project. During his tenure in the Senate, he served as vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 2011 to 2015 and as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2005 to 2006.