Last October a coordinated cyberattack sabotaged massive parts of the American and European Internet. The Mirai Botnet turned our Internet-connected devices against us. Millions of webcams, VCRs, baby monitors and telnet services were seized and used to take down Twitter, major news outlets and commercial infrastructure. Web access was cut off, electronic systems stopped working, and we couldn’t get news about what was happening. It wasn’t a team of sophisticated hackers behind the attack, but one angry gamer — reportedly a man with a grudge against the PlayStation network. The truth is that someone with minimal technical knowledge can set up a node of the Mirai Botnet in less than 15 minutes. One would think that members of Congress would lie awake at night at the thought of a malicious botnet whose next target could be military and financial institutions. And yet, no major federal initiatives were launched in the aftermath of Mirai. Rather, the security of vital infrastructure was left for private industry to solve.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) did appear on CNN to comment about the Mirai botnet. But instead of announcing plans to force recalls of the hijacked devices, Blackburn blamed the attack on software piracy — an utterly unrelated subject. (It’s like watching your house burn down and declaring it’s time to buy a new car.)
This lack of understanding might be less concerning if Blackburn were just one of the 435 voices in Congress. But she serves on the House Communications and Technology subcommittee, where just 15 votes determine the fate of much of the legislation related to technology, including cybersecurity, communication and privacy. She used her cable news interview to plug legislation that would allow law enforcement to shut down websites based on copyright allegations, widely seen as a giveaway to corporate interests — which makes sense given that two of Blackburn’s top campaign contributors are telecom interests AT&T and Verizon. When the main voices giving you perspective on privacy and cybersecurity are powerful business interests that make money from the status quo, the American people are going to lose more than we win.
When it comes to cybersecurity, Americans remain extremely vulnerable, and our representatives seem ill-prepared to do anything about it. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Equifax disregarded warnings of security vulnerability and was hacked by a relatively simple exploit; we can expect to suffer years of identity theft and credit fraud thanks to the worst theft of private information in history.