Secure our critical infrastructure now

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Much of our private information today exists not in a locked file cabinet or a desk drawer but on the servers of our banking institutions, government agencies, social media websites and retail stores. These servers contain almost every detail of our personal lives: our text messages and emails, our credit card numbers, a record of our purchases and the websites we have visited.

Millions of Americans became aware of the threat to the privacy of their information when Target disclosed that hackers had illegally accessed 40 million debit and credit card accounts last year, breaching the security of encrypted personal identification numbers (PIN), customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip on the back of cards used at its stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15.

The threat of cyberattacks has not been limited to Target stores. Recently, the information from 350,000 credit and debit cards used at Neiman Marcus was stolen and, in more than 9,000 instances, used to commit fraud. The risks are enormous, including the potential loss of bank account balances, unauthorized purchases, a loss of access to credit and even identity theft.

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Hackers who have the ability to breach the security of our financial institutions and other private companies are also trying to undermine the safety of our public utilities and our national defense — a threat to the ability of our civil society to function.

As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained when he testified before Congress in January, there are serious threats to our “critical infrastructure” such as the systems used in “water management, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power distribution, and mass transit.”
To protect our nation from the threat of cyberattacks, I was an original co-sponsor of H.R. 3696, the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2013, introduced by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and ranking member Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), as well as the chairman of the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.).

The bill authorizes collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and private companies to protect our information and require additional monitoring of potentially vulnerable systems. We cannot allow the Internet to remain a “Wild West” in which the protections for the security of our personal information are utterly inadequate to controlling the threat of cyberattacks.

H.R. 3696 defines our “critical infrastructure” to include chemical plants, commercial facilities, manufacturing, communications, dams, military bases, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors and materials and waste, transportation, water and wastewater systems. By defining these categories, the bill establishes our priorities — on protecting the systems most at risk of attacks.

In addition, H.R. 3696 requires the secretary of Homeland Security to create Cyber Incident Response Teams that will provide expertise to other federal agencies and private companies that request assistance by, for example, reviewing cybersecurity procedures submitted to the agency. This provision will allow for the development of best practices, by which different parts of our government work with each other and with businesses and the operators of critical infrastructure to determine which methods of protection work best.

On the issue of cybersecurity, Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to work with each other to protect American families. None of us, liberal or conservative, want to find unauthorized purchases on our credit card statements or errors on our credit reports. None of us want to know the experience of a terrorist attack on our critical infrastructure that results in the loss of electricity or clean water or control of our nuclear weapons.

Both the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies and the Homeland Security Committee as a whole have approved H.R. 3696, unanimously. I will continue to work with my colleagues to have a vote on this bill in the House of Representatives.


Clarke has represented New York’s 9th Congressional District since 2013. She is ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, and also sits on the Small Business Committee.