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Sen. King stresses urgency of national cyberdefense: “We must plan for the unthinkable”

King believes the next dramatic, disruptive attack against American people could be a cyberattack that may be hard or even impossible to physically see.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), spoke on the Senate floor and urged his colleagues to consider the inclusion of vital cybersecurity amendments in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

According to King, the commissioners convened nearly every Monday that Congress was in session for a year, and its staff conducted more than 400 engagements, drawing upon the expertise of corporate leaders, federal, state and local officials, academics, and cybersecurity experts. The meetings and the ensuing report sought to understand America’s posture in cyberspace and identify opportunities to improve our national preparedness to defend ourselves against cyberattacks.

In his speech Tuesday, King raised the specter of America’s ongoing struggle against the coronavirus pandemic to drive home threats that a catastrophic cyberattack could pose to daily life. 

He also outlined the vital importance of CSC’s 11 recommendations that were included in this year’s version of the NDAA to U.S. national security – while sharing aspirations that even more of the commission’s work will be included in the Senate and House bills moving forward.

“I want to describe a hypothetical threat: a threat that throws millions of people out of work almost overnight, causes a stock market collapse, cripples the airline industry, has people afraid to leave their homes, the state scrambling for materials to prepare and cope with the attack,” King said in the speech. “The attack comes in waves. Just as it seems to be receding, it comes back. It’s difficult to know the sources of the attack. The country is divided; there are conspiracy theories and polarization and politicization of this awful situation. Madame President, I’m not describing the pandemic. That’s what we’ve experienced. I’m describing a potential catastrophic cyberattack on this country.”

He also shared his belief that the next dramatic, disruptive attack against American people could be a cyberattack that may be hard or even impossible to physically see.

“I think one of the overall lessons [we’ve learned] from the pandemic is: the unthinkable can happen. If you had told any of us a year ago we wouldn’t be leaving our homes, we’d be wearing our masks when we went out, our restaurants and social gatherings would be closed, nobody would believe that," King said. "Well, it’s happened. And a catastrophic cyberattack can happen…Just as the pandemic was unthinkable, nobody could think of an attack that could bring down the electric system, or the transport system, or the internet, but it can happen. The technology is there… I believe, Mr. President, the next Pearl Harbor will be cyber. That's going to be the attack that attempts to bring this country to its knees, and as we've learned in the pandemic, we have vulnerability, and we have to prepare for it.”

The CSC was established by statute in the 2019 NDAA  and officially launched in April 2019. The final report, issued on March 11, lays out more than 75 recommendations to improve the security of U.S. critical infrastructure and provides a strategic approach of layered cyber deterrence to defend the United States against cyberattacks of significant consequences.

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