PENN YAN—Democratic Congressional Nominee Tracy Mitrano (NY-23) issued a clarion call today for Congress to treat this nation’s cybersecurity for what it is: a matter of national security.
“Cyberwarfare constitutes the single greatest national security threat to America today. Cyberattacks from foreign adversaries and independent actors threaten our information, our infrastructure, our economy, and our democracy,” Mitrano said. “I’m not bringing attention to this problem in order to stoke fear. We can deal with this threat. We can secure ourselves for a new age. However, doing so requires being intentional about the way we conduct cyber communications and the way we safeguard our data and computer systems. We need representatives who understand the issues we face, and who are committed to supporting policies and legislation that are capable of protecting the American people.”
In recent years, a number high-profile hacking incidents have brought the issue of cybersecurity to the fore. In 2015, the Obama administration revealed that hackers, potentially in China, had infiltrated government records kept by the Office of Personnel Management, obtaining information about millions of people who had undergone federal background checks. In late 2016, the F.B.I. released information stating that Russian actors had interfered in the presidential election—a fact that has since been broadly backed by the federal intelligence community, including by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was formerly Director of the C.I.A.
Adversaries have attempted to interfere with American democracy, seeking to create discord and even hacking state computer systems in possible attempts to manipulate vote counts. Concerns have also been raised about the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure, such as power and water grids, which, if infiltrated by a foe, could allow a foreign actor to do serious damage.
Beyond our national borders, cyberattacks can cause real financial harm to people whose credit card information, or other data, is exposed by a private company’s data breach—another serious problem that Congress must work to solve.
Mitrano is well-versed on these issues, having spent the last 15 years working in the interstices of cybersecurity, law, and policy. From 2001 to 2014, she worked as the Director of Information Technology Policy at Cornell University. During her tenure, she oversaw the development of some of higher education’s foundational information security policy. This expertise makes her uniquely qualified to serve in the 116th Congress, where these issues have never been more pressing. Few of the legislators in Congress today have a comparable background in cybersecurity, marking a distinct difference from earlier eras, when national security was a matter of conventional warfare and many in Congress had military backgrounds.
The Democratic nominee’s campaign platform calls for legislation that would require companies to be more transparent about the way that they are collecting, using, and protecting consumer data. Mitrano likewise backs measures that would better equip Congress and the U.S. government to respond to cyber threats, including a bill passed in the Senate this month that would create a separate agency within the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), which would be known as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency and would deal specifically with cybersecurity. (The bill will now be sent back to the House of Representatives for legislators there to approve the Senate version.) Mitrano is also an advocate of resurrecting the Office of Technology Assistance, which provided members of Congress with information on intricate technological and scientific issues from 1972 until its funding was cut in 1995.
In addition, Mitrano wants Congress and the federal government to do more to aid states with election security. Last year, D.H.S. informed a number of states that their election systems had been targeted and, in some cases, infiltrated by hackers. While there is no evidence that any of these states’ vote-counting systems were compromised, this targeting highlights the vulnerability of state voting systems: a liability that remains, by-and-large, under-addressed. In the past two years, the federal government has failed to institute broad changes on a national scale to solve these problems.
“In the U.S., states run their own elections,” Mitrano said. “Still, the federal government can, and must, do more to help states protect the integrity of their vote counts. Democracy depends on the ability of voters to trust that when they go to the ballot box, their votes will be counted equally and fairly. We have to be able to trust our voting systems, or the sanctity of the American democracy will be compromised.”
Above all, Mitrano stressed that time is of the essence, stating that the United States cannot continue to delay in addressing these issues.
“It is of the utmost importance that Americans have policymakers who understand the intricacies of these issues,” Mitrano said. “That’s part of the experience that I will bring to Congress: a vast amount of background knowledge on issues of cybersecurity, and a readiness to share my knowledge with my colleagues of both parties. Cybersecurity is national security, and as such, it is a bipartisan issue, one that we can—and indeed, must—resolve with bipartisan solutions.”