- - Monday, September 26, 2022

American policymakers concerned with protecting our homeland tend to address vulnerabilities along our nation’s three borders: Our first border with Canada, our second border with Mexico, and our third border with the Caribbean.

While the fentanyl epidemic created by our open second border demands our full attention, we must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Washington has unfortunately continued its pattern of neglect towards our nation’s fourth border — our cyber border.

In 2018, cyberattacks cost the federal government an estimated $13.7 billion dollars. Left unchecked, these attacks in cyberspace will cripple our ability to both grow our economy and protect the homeland. As America progresses further into the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that the biggest threat to our way of life and values is a defeat in cyberspace. It’s high time we start considering cyber our fourth border.

America’s dynamic economy is fueled in large part by cutting-edge digital innovation. Undoubtedly, a strong modern economy is the key to our continued strength both at home and abroad. For American companies, though, cyberattacks and intellectual property theft are ever-present concerns. When companies’ brands are tarnished as unreliable or unsafe, incentives to continue innovating plummet out of fear of theft.

Nefarious and highly organized cyberattacks have already damaged our economy and the millions of Americans who are employed by its diverse parts from the energy sector to the entertainment industry. The extremely high cost to repair a capital-intensive product, such as a film or software program, following a cyberattack removes millions of dollars in value from the American economy and American’s wallets. Hacking and intellectual property infringement deal a massive blow to our economic growth, our global competitiveness, and our job creation.

The number of American jobs that are directly impacted by even one unreleased film or a stolen app idea due to cyber vulnerabilities is immense — not to mention the tax revenue that vanishes from our nation’s treasury, exacerbating our national debt crisis. When cyberattacks prevent our robust economy from flourishing, Americans suffer.

Without the large amount of tax dollars generated through digital media or the sale of American digital technology, funding for services and programs runs out and the burden falls on the American people, whether through the usual Washington response of higher taxes or through the inflationary habit of printing money. 

Weak cybersecurity is not only a threat to Americans’ livelihoods, but also to our national security. Our military and intelligence community have a dangerous and existential challenge before them—China matching and even exceeding our technological advancements. Recently, China was able to steal critical military plans related to a supersonic anti-ship missile designed to be launched from our submarines.

This was a milestone military development that would have given us a distinct advantage beneath the waves, now gone. When I served in the Army, our top priority was ensuring a capability advantage over our adversaries. Our servicemembers should never be fighting with the same or worse technology as our enemy.

Today, however, China is rapidly closing that gap, and Washington is not taking the threat seriously enough. Further, as companies lose revenue our nation loses economic power, and tax revenues directly determine the strength of our military. Quite simply, the better our companies do, the more tax revenue the country makes, and the more tanks, planes and ships we can buy. When any adversary hacks a company, for example, Sony, and decreases the taxes that company pays the federal government as it incurs losses, weakens our national security.

The Department of Justice has determined that 80% of all espionage cases and 60% of all trade secret cases are connected to China in some way. For instance, many will recall the infamous 2015 hack of the White House’s Office of Personnel Management which exposed the private data (including fingerprints and social security numbers) of over twenty million current and former federal employees. The Trump Administration revealed in 2018 that it was in fact China that engaged in this heinous breach of data. The Biden administration and Congress must see this and other such attacks for what they truly are — attacks on our sovereignty and liberty. The future of our ability to act against our adversaries is at serious risk, and action must be taken to stop China, now.

In today’s world, confidential files and top-secret information is never just on paper but contained in servers that are vulnerable to enemy attack. The Chinese Communist Party is actively looking at and leveraging any advantage they can gain over us, including employing hackers to access our sensitive information. In 2018, the Department of Justice found that over 45% of U.S. tech companies and government agencies had been compromised by China-endorsed hackers. Our service members and national security professionals can get the job done, but we in Congress must give them the tools to overcome the enemy and protect American privacy and prosperity.

In the past, I have spent ample time discussing how our southern border—our second border— is unsecure. While not securing this second border is wreaking havoc on our communities, an unprotected fourth border is just as catastrophic. In our free and open society, it can often feel as if we are more vulnerable to attack and at a disadvantage in the threat against the autocratic Chinese Communist Party. Yet, I know that it is precisely because of our values that this is a challenge we can overcome for our economic and national security – if we have the foresight to act now.

I am urging President Joe Biden and my colleagues in Congress to act immediately to consider a frame of reference shift. We must think of cyber as the nation’s fourth border and secure it from further attack and infiltration.

  • Rep. Mark Green is a physician and combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq where he served three tours. He interviewed Saddam Hussein for six hours on the night of his capture. He serves on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

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