Getting prepared for a ‘cyber-Pearl Harbor’

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D- Gig Harbor.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D- Gig Harbor.

Are you one of the 22 million Americans who had personal information stolen because of a cybersecurity breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management? Over the last few years, have you had to get a new credit card because hackers stole your information from a private company?

Technology has made enormous improvements in our lives, and has driven economic growth for companies large and small. My smartphone enables me to buy a cup of coffee, purchase a pack of Almond Roca or FaceTime with my kiddos – all with the touch of a button.

But with so much more personal information and access in the digital world, bad actors have taken notice. Hackers and criminals have found it easy to punch holes in our cyber defenses. The past few years have afforded us too many examples of cyber attacks with very tangible consequences.

There is already a laundry list of bad behavior – from hackers stealing data from private companies to ransomware attacks on retailers and hospitals. And things could get worse. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said America could face a “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” calling it a “pre-9/11 moment” requiring action and attention.

It seems only a matter of time before we hear stories about tampering with our local ports, utilities and city halls. Locally, we know that attempts to destabilize activity at places like the Port of Tacoma would be damaging to Washington’s bottom line and put more than tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Already, Tacoma has the foundation for a thriving cybersecurity industry that can better protect us while creating quality jobs. Driving through town, you will find several companies (including Topia Technology and Infoblox) focusing on solutions to our cyber challenge.

Over at the University of Washington Tacoma, students can develop tools and know-how for a successful career through a Master’s in cybersecurity and leadership. The UWT is also building partnerships with Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Camp Murray. All these assets position our community as essential to creating a 21st century cyber defense for our state’s 21st century economy.

But the federal government can – and should – be a better partner for Tacoma and other local communities.

That’s why I’m working on a bipartisan bill that would establish a cybersecurity grant program within the Department of Homeland Security. It would provide states with funds to develop cyber-resiliency plans so they can outline key issues and target how to fix them. Cyber resiliency requires exceptional coordination and planning across all levels of government.

Unfortunately, most state cyber budgets are inadequate, coming in at between zero and two percent of their overall IT budget. The bill provides an incentive for states to develop plans for coordination, so that Tacoma (including the port, public utilities and city government) can get adequate resources. Furthermore, these grants allow cities like Tacoma to fully utilize the cyber expertise their region offers.

This bill also seeks to address the demand for cyber professionals. We are going to look at how to close that gap so we can expand the pipeline of folks taking jobs that help keep your personal data and our institutions and infrastructure safe.

It’s not acceptable that local government records and operations are increasingly at risk. This is an opportunity to bolster our state’s ability to fend off cyber criminals while supporting the growing cyber industry in our region.

This is a moment where Tacoma and our region can be at the forefront of growing good jobs and solving a significant national security challenge. Let’s seize it.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District.