The war in Ukraine has exposed how quickly peace can collapse. Europe had seventy years without a conflict between states, lulling many to believe permanent peace was the new normal. With those illusions shattered, we’re now seeing a rearmament and massive cyber security infrastructure investments by European countries to reduce their vulnerability to the predations of Vladimir Putin.
The United States can learn many lessons from the Ukrainian conflict. It seems that many Americans are eager to deny the threats posed to us by our foreign adversaries. It’s been 20 years since we were last attacked on our own soil. I fear we are now like the Europeans were until just weeks ago — lulled into a false sense of security and in denial about those who wish to do us harm.
Of increasing concern are the threats of cyber warfare. Remember last year’s attack against the Colonial Pipeline? It caused a fuel shortage on the East Coast and resulted in President Biden declaring a state of emergency. Colonial Pipeline is just one of dozens of ransomware attacks against Americans last year — most of them didn’t make national headlines.
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Considering the ubiquity of technology in our critical infrastructure, there are no shortage of targets for cyber-attacks. The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tracks sixteen critical infrastructure sectors that are vulnerable to attack — everything from our food supply, to healthcare, to communications and transportation.
As we saw with Colonial Pipeline, disrupting even one cog in a complex system has far-reaching effects. In that example, hackers saw an opportunity to score a ransom. But imagine the havoc we would see with a coordinated attack against several critical infrastructure sectors at the same time by a state-backed actor. Without launching a single ship or plane, a foreign adversary could cause severe damage.
We’re already preparing to defend against these attacks in Montana. Our Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard has the authority to call up guardsmen to active duty to defend against cyber attacks.
These threats are real and they’re evolving rapidly. What’s most alarming is we know that our worst enemies are investing heavily in developing cyber capabilities. Hackers backed by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and others are now capable of hitting American targets.
What can we do about it? For one, our military and national security infrastructure is considered the most advanced in the world. That provides some comfort, but being the best doesn’t mean that we are invulnerable to attack.
This is why we must maintain our position as the global technology leader. We need to increase investments in technology and continue to foster an environment of technological innovation.
China in particular is investing billions to beat the United States in technology and cybersecurity. In fact, becoming the world technology leader is a stated goal of the Chinese Communist Party. This is not just for economic reasons — Chinese leadership views technological innovation as a national security imperative.
For the United States to remain the leader in technological innovation, we’ve got to keep government out of the way. A responsible, pragmatic, and thoughtful approach to regulation has obviously served us well, but today we’re seeing increasing calls in Washington to clamp down on our technology companies. Doing so leaves us more vulnerable.
It’s encouraging to see some leaders, like Senator Daines, recognize the threats posed by China. Senator Daines is leading the fight to strengthen our technology sector, for instance by sponsoring the Endless Frontiers Act, which invests in innovation and holds China accountable for cyber-attacks and intellectual property violations.
China views us as their adversary. We’ve got to do the same, and make the appropriate preparations to defend ourselves. As the experience in Ukraine has shown, we might be more vulnerable than we realize.
Roger Hagan is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and retired member of the United States Air Force and Air National Guard.