Act before a ‘cyber Pearl Harbor’


Another day, another report of a cyberattack on a major American institution.

This week, it was the news that this summer’s breach at JPMorgan Chase exposed the personal information of up to 200 million Americans to criminals.

And it’s not just the risk to our identities from international organized crime that should trouble us. It’s the threat to our critical infrastructure — our electricity grid, power plants, sensitive industrial processes, financial networks, rail and air traffic control systems and more — that poses security and economic risks. In 2012, hackers infected and overwrote hard drives of 30,000 computers at the Saudi Aramco oil company. Former National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander said it was a “wake-up call” to the threat to our critical infrastructure. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

We shouldn’t wait until such a catastrophe to take action.

That’s why this summer the House passed legislation developed in the Homeland Security Committee to strengthen civilian authorities to combat the threat. The National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act takes the government’s thus-far haphazard approach and codifies its mission through the Department of Homeland Security. It brings the private sector networks into partnership with the government to ensure information sharing and responses to cyber threats remain sharp.

The reforms are both meaningful and bipartisan, developed with significant input from the private sector and privacy advocates. It earned unanimous support from committee to floor passage, as well as the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has passed bipartisan companion legislation. In September, leadership from both committees had a productive meeting, where we mapped out how we can bring these bills together and pass them by the end of the year.

I urge my colleagues in both Houses and parties to keep at it. We have a responsibility to guard against this clear danger, and we have legislation that is the right tool for the job.

Meehan has represented Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District since 2011. He is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on cybersecurity. He also sits on the Oversight and Government Reform and Transportation committees.