The May 7 cyberattack that breached the computer systems of America’s largest fuel pipeline matters more than they’re telling us. It wasn’t just that the Colonial Pipeline’s hack by a criminal extortion ring drove up gas demand and prices to a six-year high, leaving panicked motorists’ tanks empty. Or that we had between three and five days before the ripple effects of the shutdown would’ve hit mass transit systems, chemical factories, and refinery operations.
What’s truly troubling is the massive vulnerability the attack exposed in our nation’s cyber defenses —even by this relatively unsophisticated attack— and how behind-the-ball our government has been to take cybersecurity seriously. The Government Accountability Office now admits that U.S. federal cybersecurity has not only been allowed to regress, it’s been added to the category of government programs at high risk of failure. So who should we be blaming? Well, our leaders of course. And the longer they’ve been in leadership, the more blame they assume.
U.S. Rep. John Larson has been representing the first congressional district for 22 years. And during that time he has repeatedly failed to answer experts’ call to action when it comes to bolstering our cybersecurity. For instance, we should be investing in the best-in-class cyberdefense systems that have been on the market for years and Congress needs to legislatively designate an official or office to lead our national cybersecurity efforts.
Instead, Rep. Larson has used his power to waste trillions of our taxpayer dollars on unwinnable forever wars that have done little to make us safe. In fact, as co-chair of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter, Rep. Larson was behind the scandalous $1.5 trillion F-35 program that even the Air Force admitted was a failure. For most, a trillion-dollar blunder would be a sobering wake-up call, but not for Rep. Larson. He recently joined an effort to double down on the flopped experiment this appropriations cycle. The $700,000 he’s received in campaign contributions may have something to do with his zeal for the failed project. It’s problematic enough when our leaders don’t spend our money wisely, but when donors’ pet projects are massively hurting the collective, we have to draw a red line.
So why am I bringing up these forever wars and a $1.5 trillion failed plane when it comes to the recent cyberattack? Because they highlight how our leaders are failing at retooling our defense capabilities and preparing for the future of 21st century warfare. And it’s going to hurt us all.
When it comes to cyber warfare, the most consistent targets are businesses and governments; that’s where the money is. Look no further than the $5 million in ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to get back up and running and you’ll get the picture. Beyond payoffs that may become commonplace, cyber warfare also seeks to undermine the critical infrastructure —such as our energy, transportation, and telecommunications systems— that America needs to flourish.
All of this is why I pumped gas for $1.22 a gallon (a nod to Larson’s 22-year tenure representing the first district) early this month at a Hartford Shell station. I wanted to draw attention to the Colonial Pipeline attack and speak to constituents about what it means. People need to be informed that the U.S. has one of most computerized infrastructures in the world, and leaders like Rep. Larson have left it wide open to attack. And as a vehement supporter of the Green New Deal and modernizing our power grid, I know that a truly functional green energy sector won’t be possible until it is impervious to the actions of groups trying to do Americans harm.
Rep. Larson’s response to the event was unfortunate, but not at all unsurprising. He took the same deflective posture he has taken in the past when challenged. Rather than owning his myopia on policy and mismanaging our money, he pivoted to some COVID-19 relief measures passed by leadership and resorted to ad-hominem attacks on me. This is not leadership.
Muad Hrezi of Hartford is a former policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and a candidate for the Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District.