Congressional action on cybersecurity would send strong message to China

Pope Francis’ visit to America garnered wall-to-wall media coverage but the second most popular news story has the greater consequence for businesses, consumers and our national security. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with business executives in Seattle, President Obama at the White House and representatives to the United Nations in New York amid growing concerns related to Cybersecurity threats emanating from his country and other state actors and terrorist groups around the globe. Xi sounded the right tone of cooperation as Obama and American business leaders took him to task but only Congress has the means to immediately make us safer. 

Obama is to be applauded for his continued chiding of China’s alleged state-sponsored corporate espionage as well as hacking into federal agencies and the Pentagon, while also working to secure a cyber arms control agreement that prevents first strikes against either country’s critical infrastructure. But White House efforts have produced few results besides perhaps, securing a more conciliatory Chinese tone, all while the number of attacks on American businesses and data stored by U.S. government agencies continues to grow exponentially.  

{mosads}Perhaps no system is more attractive to hackers or those wanting to disrupt America’s economy than our national electronic payments platforms, which consumers use more than ever. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, credit and debit card payments grew from one-third of noncash payments in 2000 to two-thirds in 2012; and debit card payments have grown by more than three billion transactions each year between 2009 and 2012. Yet business and consumer confidence in this vital system erodes with each cyber attack, and as government fails to take meaningful steps to protect our increasingly vulnerable data. Consumers will continue to expand their use of digital payment platforms, raising the question how the system and data will be kept secure. 

“FinTech” companies – including members of the American Transaction Processors Coalition (ATPC) – are helping to answer the question by spending millions annually to protect their systems. Their customers will lose consumer business if the system fails to protect transactions at merchant stores or online marketplaces.   

Electronic payments are extremely safe because of this investment and vigilance but no one company should have to go it alone when being confronted by the types of global cybersecurity threats being discussed with the Chinese president. Working together, and in partnership with government to share information on threats and ways to combat them is the only truly effective protection against cyber threats. 

That is why the ATPC is calling on Congress to immediately pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. The House passed two strong bills (the Protecting Cyber Networks Act and The National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act) earlier this year and the Senate must now pass the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S. 754). 

These bills create an environment where private companies can freely share cybersecurity threat and attack information, and best practices with each other instead of being forced to act independently. This approach will foster a more secure payment environment while also allowing companies to move some of their current security expenditures to product innovation, talent recruitment and expansion.

Xi Jinping might be returning to China but no amount of rhetoric shared during his visit will reduce cyber attacks, which FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper both recently told Congress is the top domestic threat recognized by the law enforcement and intelligence communities. 

Threats to merchants and consumers are real and not going away, whether transactions take place at a physical storefront or through an online portal. The Global State of Information Security Survey 2015 reports that the number of detected security incidents rose 48 percent from 2013 to 2014 – a 66 percent year-over-year increase from just five years ago. That means 117,000 attacks took place each day. 

The threat of cyber attacks may never go away but strong new tools exist to help the private sector and government significantly minimize their impact. America’s payment rails and the financial technology companies that manage them are juicy targets, which is why we are among the leaders advocating for legislative action. The Obama administration and American businesses called for Chinese government support in ending cyber attacks. But the U.S. Senate can make us all more secure now, by following the lead of their House colleagues to pass cybersecurity legislation along solid, bipartisan lines.

Richards is executive director of the American Transaction Processors Coalition (


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