In 2018, our security can no longer exclusively be defined in terms of tanks, airplanes and weapon systems.
As government, private industry and American families have adopted technology into nearly every aspect of our lives, the need for cybersecurity has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, our response to this threat has been piecemeal at best.
In order to combat this real and growing threat, we need a three-pronged approach that involves everyone from Washington D.C., to Chicago to Silicon Valley and everywhere in between.
Prong One — Washington, D.C.: On too many issues, business as usual is either broken or ineffective within the Beltway. Thankfully, one area where we are making strides through bipartisanship is in cybersecurity.
I’m privileged to serve as the Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology with Chairman Will Hurd, Texas Republican. It would be difficult to find someone in Congress, or frankly anywhere else, who has more experience and understanding on these critical issues.
Together, we have been able to craft legislation in an open, process-driven way that will revolutionize government IT acquisition, increase cybersecurity and save taxpayer dollars. This legislation, called the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act and signed into law in December, is an important first step. Still, more work remains to ensure that all government data is protected from today’s and tomorrow’s cyberthreats.
Right now, I’m working on pieces of legislation to ensure baked-in security measures for internet-connected devices like webcams and to help agencies better manage their IT inventory. Additionally, Chairman Hurd has proposed the idea of a Cyber National Guard to increase cybersecurity talent within government; I support this commonsense proposal.
While these are good ideas, they achieve nothing if they are trapped in our subcommittee. When we worked on the MGT Act, we held field hearings and hearings in Washington, we allowed amendments, and we worked across the aisle to craft the best possible plan. Congress needs to do more of this. We need to work on legislation together, not in party-driven ideological silos. Let’s actually allow the space for the best ideas to come forward. When it comes to cybersecurity, we cannot afford to let good policy sit on the shelf because of whose name is on the sponsor line.
Prong Two — Every Community: When it comes to combating cyberthreats, we need everyone from every community involved. According to the Level Playing Field Institute, there will be 1.4 million new tech jobs by 2020 and 70 percent will be unfilled. Many of these jobs will be devoted to cybersecurity or play a critical role in cyber defense. We clearly cannot allow the vast majority of these jobs to remain open; we need to redouble our efforts to train new workers, retrain mature workers and inspire students to pursue STEM careers.
In order to meet the bourgeoning demand for new cybersecurity and tech professionals that our economy needs, we need to reach into every community: suburban, veteran, working class and communities of color. With this great need, we cannot allow someone’s ZIP code or background to lock them out of these opportunities.
One real challenge we face is that just 22 percent of schools with AP programs offer computer science coursework and nationwide nearly 30 percent of schools do not offer any AP coursework. This means that thousands, if not millions, of American students are blocked from learning critical skills that could open the door to a career as a cyber professional. The first step toward addressing this crisis is to get more computer science teachers into the classroom. My Today’s American Dream Act includes a provision that would incentivize people to teach computer science by helping to pay off some of their student loan debt.
Prong Three — On Every Computer: Combatting cybersecurity is not someone else’s responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility. In October 2016, household kitchen items were used to knock out Internet access to users on the East Coast. It should not be that easy for cybercriminals to exploit these vulnerabilities, and families can take simple steps to prevent it.
As new cyberthreats continue to grow and evolve, every person needs to take these issues seriously and be proactive in stopping them. There are simple, everyday things that every person can do, even with limited technical expertise, to make themselves, their data and the entire system safer.
These include simple things like multifactor identification (when you receive a text with a code to confirm a login) and using only trusted Wi-Fi networks and passwords that are secure (please stop using Password123). Trust me, you want to do these things before your data is compromised or your bank account is drained, and it will help make everyone and the system safer.
We still have a lot of work to do to bolster cybersecurity. We are starting to make the right steps and now is the time to go from small steps toward giant leaps. Technology and hackers will not wait.
• Democrat Rep. Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District. She serves as the Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology.
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