The answer, according to more than 90% of Americans, is no. After reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election, many fear that Russia may target other systems like the electrical grid and other critical infrastructure.

The National Research Council reports that a cyberattack could blackout a large region of the nation for as long as a few months. An event like this would trigger extended, widespread power outages, including the loss of life support systems for vulnerable populations in hospitals, disruption of clean water and sanitation, and a standstill for transportation systems.

We’ve already seen the crippling effects that blackouts can cause. The 2003 blackout in the Northeast impacted more than 50 million people, leaving them without power for days and stoking post-9/11 fears that terrorists were responsible for the attack. The blackout cost $50 million for New York City alone, as the New York Stock Exchange and other commercial operations ground to a halt.

After years of waffling from the Trump administration about how much of a threat Russia poses to our cyber infrastructure, Congress is trying to figure out a way to step in and take leadership. 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) believes the Trump administration needs to get serious about cyberdefense, and he’s leading an effort to help them do just that. In 2018, Sasse proposed creating a commission of top national security officials to create a comprehensive cyber defense strategy for the U.S., similar to the Project Solarium Commission President Eisenhower established to create a plan for dealing with the Soviet threat. 

“We need to have real debate if we’re going to produce a consensus-based framework to defend the country in cyberspace,” Sasse told The Washington Post. “The Commission will be successful if it helps finally define for our government how, when, and where we will seek to deter America’s adversaries; how we will organize government to ensure dominance in the new battlefield; and how government appropriately recruits and partners with the expertise and talent of the private sector.”

The bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission unveiled its first report in May. It included 80 recommendations for improving U.S. cyber infrastructure, organized in six pillars, including government reform, improving collaboration with the private sector, and creating new congressional committees to focus on cyber issues.

Sasse said Congress’s current committee structure does not effectively allow it to address cybersecurity. 

“The committee structure of Congress does not work on cyber and so we need to reform that,” Sasse said. “And there are a whole bunch of career, permanent politicians here who don’t want their committee assignments to lose any jurisdiction.”

Moving forward, the commission also hopes to establish a cabinet-level National Cyber Director and create a plan to fill the more than 30,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the public sector. Sasse and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) plan to introduce about a dozen proposals from the commission’s report as part of the next defense spending bill.


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Image Credit: Photo by Claudio Schwarz Purzlbaum on Unsplash