Build that “virtual” wall?

The government showdown beginning in January and coming to a head this past month underscored a growing concern in our country. This was not the perceived threat at our southern border, even when most media outlets and politicians have focused our attention on border wall funding; instead, it is the glaring concerns around the defense of our homeland. Over the past four presidential administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump), partisan politics has done nothing to address the obvious holes in the aging and interconnected infrastructure crucial to the security of the United States and its citizens. The current administration has been focusing on a physical barrier at the southern border but this misstep will not protect the United States from hordes of gangs, drugs, and terrorists with their sights set squarely on taking down the United States. The current administration, with the assistance of the news media, has continued to keep us in the dark, fighting about the wrong topics, and focused on issues not essential to our persistence.

Just to be clear border security is necessary for the sovereignty of any nation but so is providing healthcare, assisting during and after natural disasters, and protecting the critical pillars of human survival. What are these critical pillars and what is the threat that is escaping the attention they so desperately need? For basic human survival we need water and food to live but as citizens of a developed country, there are other expectations such as running water, transportation, communication, healthcare, and energy to name a few. In the United States, previous presidential administrations began outlining with their congressional counterparts the essential and expected services in sixteen sectors deemed critical infrastructure.

On February 14, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)chairperson spoke to Congress about the growing threat of cyberattacks to infrastructure critical to the energy sector. The chairperson discussed the need to increase defensive capabilities guarding against this very real threat. There have already been reported cyber-attacks in Ukraine in December of 2015 and Germany’s energy infrastructure in June 2018. All of these threats and attacks appear to be stemming from state-sponsored entities. State-sponsored means that these attacks are being carried out with the support and blessing of a sovereign country such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea all of which have been implemented in cyber-attacks. To put this in more perspective the directors of the FBI, CIA, and National Intelligence testified before Congress in January 2019 on the growing cyber threats detected in the United States and tracing those cyber-attacks or probing events back to where they originated. All three directors felt that Russia has already developed capabilities, which would allow them to shut down critical infrastructures here in the United.

The question here is with these reports coming into Congress and the White House why is the current administration and leaders in Congress so focused on a physical barrier. The Current administration’s request for $5.6 billion dollars on building a physical barrier seeks to undermine the federal funding critical to defending and enhancing our cyber capabilities. The administration and news media are focusing the attention on the immigrants seeking refugee here in our country and escaping the atrocities of where they are fleeing. These immigrants are not here “to kill us” or crossing the border in “futuristic cars” evading border patrol agents. The threat to our health, food, water, and our inalienable rights are the malicious attackers sitting hundreds of miles away turning off electricity or poisoning water supplies. It appears that this administration and the news media coverage applied to this “border security issue” are failing to look at a much bigger threat to our sovereignty as a nation. It is not an issue of if it happens or if attackers have the capabilities but that it inevitably is going to happen. The current landscape in Washington, DC appears only interested in paying lip service to cybersecurity and figuring that it will not happen. Congress and the current administration need to realize that a physical barrier will not protect the country from a devastating attack that will be far worse than those we saw with the attacks of 9/11.

We can see proof of this cybersecurity “lip service” just by looking at the recent “national emergency” declaration that the President delivered on February 15. Some might ask how the “national emergency” declaration affects the cybersecurity posture of the United States. The declaration will pull money from the pool of resources used by the Department of Homeland Security and its newly created Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) who is currently looking at ways to ensure that a foreign country never again interferes with our elections or infiltrates our energy providers (just to name a couple of their daily tasks). CISA also conducts research and development of technologies to protect our other critical infrastructures, educates companies and organizations on cybersecurity best practices, provides information sharing, protects the federal government from attack, and combatting cybercrime; all of these directives can easily exceed $5.6 billion. This “national emergency” is just not the right way to utilize these resources and in time, we may find this lesson out the hard way.

About Dr. Mathias Plass

Dr. Matt Plass is an Assistant Professor in Cybersecurity and Information Technology in the Lewis University Department of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences. Areas of interest include cyber and information security education, security awareness, critical infrastructure protection and the growing world of IoT. He earned his DSc in Cybersecurity from Capitol Technology University in 2015, is a Certified Information Systems Security Profession (CISSP), a Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH), Certified Penetration Tester (CPT) and Network+ professional.

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