CHARLESTON – The most challenging war we may need to fight in the future will be in cyberspace. It’s a fight I am preparing for as your Secretary of State.
Cyberspace is a new frontier for terrorism, one that threatens far out of proportion to its cost. A non-traditional cyber attack on American infrastructure could happen without a single aircraft or boot on American soil. For example, one skilled Russian hacker sitting in a Moscow basement could potentially wipe out an entire city’s electrical grid here in the United States, causing indeterminate suffering for hundreds of thousands of people for an extended period of time.
Similarly, the integrity of elections and voter databases have become targets of nefarious international cyber attacks. In 2014, two years before our recent national election, Ukraine accused Russia of launching a series of coordinated cyber attacks attempting to control the outcome of that country’s presidential election. Similar accusations against Russia have been made by officials in Germany, Austria, Norway, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
On Aug. 19, President Donald Trump elevated the country’s cyberspace operations to full combatant command status. Those active in the military understand exactly what that means. This move will substantially strengthen the country’s effort to protect our people, government and critical infrastructure against cyber terrorism and cyberspace threats.
This new focus on U.S. Cyber Command (CyberCom) will improve the control and response to time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single military commander leading some of the most talented technology professionals in the world.
The most important part of the President’s announcement is the support the new Command will be able to offer to the protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure, which now includes election systems and voter databases.
Over the last six months, I’ve relied on my education and military background to help lead a national effort to improve the communication between the federal government and state elections officials. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) endorsed my recommendation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide secretaries of state with security clearances. The move was approved and now allows CyberComm and the National Guard to communicate directly with the secretaries.
Since taking office, I’ve focused on recruiting an Information Technology team of professionals who understand the threat that cyberspace brings to the Secretary of State’s office. We’ve developed a three-prong strategy to deal with cybersecurity in the Secretary of State’s Office: Protection – Detection – Correction.
Our primary focus is on protection. But we aren’t foolish enough to believe that, despite our best efforts, there aren’t hackers out there creative enough to find a weak link in our process. That’s where our detection and immediate correction strategies kick in.
Cybersecurity is not just a concern for my office. I want to encourage law enforcement officials and government administrators at all levels to educate themselves and stay updated on cyber threats, technology, and the improper use of computers to create havoc in cities large and small. Shutting down or contaminating water systems, air systems, traffic systems, or electric power grids would create immediate chaos. Law enforcement agencies need to work closely with community leaders and the utility industry to identify and assess possible vulnerabilities.
You’ll be hearing more from the Secretary of State’s Office in the coming weeks as we announce new initiatives and partnerships to protect our critical elections systems. As your Secretary of State, I will always remain vigilant in the protection of your voter information.
Warner is West Virginia’s 30th Secretary of State.