Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security recommended Monday that the federal government do more to deter and defend U.S. systems from state-sponsored cyberattacks.
Speaking during a Senate Homeland Security Committee field hearing in New York City, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson each testified that cyber threats remain a major cause for concern requiring greater cooperation between the public and private sectors.
“We need to raise our game with respect to this, and it’s got to be a public-private partnership,” said Mr. Chertoff, Homeland Security secretary from 2005 to 2009 under former President George W. Bush.
“DHS has stepped up to its cyber capabilities, but we have much more to do in this area. Our nation’s critical infrastructure, its utility grids election systems and our public and private networks all are vulnerable,” said Ms. Napolitano, who led the agency from 2009 through 2013 under former President Barack Obama. “We need a whole of government and a whole of public and private sector response to this threat, and it needs to happen now.”
Mr. Johnson, Ms. Napolitano’s successor, said that he was disappointed that not more private-sector entities had partnered with DHS for information sharing purposes when he left the agency in early 2017, and he suggested to senators that they explore ways to encourage greater cooperation.
“I think the single best thing anyone can do in that situation is to raise the level of awareness about security among the people who use the system,” said Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson also indicated that he was disappointed in the response taken by President Trump’s administration for cyberattacks attributed to the Russian government, adding that be believes other actions are needed to deter future attacks.
“I believe that you cannot create a complete line of defense against these kinds of attacks, therefore we have to put it to the bad actor and simply make the behavior cost-prohibitive,” testified Mr. Johnson.
“I think a lot of good things have been done in this administration in terms of sanctions directed at Russians, the Russian government, and by the Congress, but if you believe the intelligence assessments, a lot more is necessary,” he said.
DHS spokespeople did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
The field hearing was held at National September 11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan and focused on how DHS has adapted to handle evolving threats in the 18 years since the terrorist attacks spurred the agency’s creation.
Responding to questioning from Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, Ms. Napolitano proposed countering ever-evolving cybersecurity threats by first establishing a commission to draft a report like the one created after 9/11.
“The report points out all these red flags that had arisen, and they said that a key critique is that our government leaders suffered from a failure of imagination,” recalled Ms. Napolitano. “In the cyber arena, we have all these red flags now, we should not entertain such a failure of imagination. And perhaps it is time for the country to have a 9-11 Commission for cyber before we have, for example, massive ransomware attacks, simultaneously conducted around the country. Or where we suffer once again a direct attack on our democracy as we saw in the 2016 election.”
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