It's like a recurring bad dream.
March: Hackers allegedly steal the credit card numbers from 1.5 million Visa and MasterCard customers by breaking into the computer systems of the company's payment processor in New York. The thieves stockpiled the stolen credit card numbers for months before beginning to use them.
August: Cyber attackers disrupt production from Saudi Aramco, the world's largest exporter of crude oil, taking out 30,000 computers in the process, according to press reports.
January: PNC Bank announces to its 5 million customers that its website is getting hit with high traffic consistent of a cyber attack meant to delay business with its online banking customers.
These are just three reported examples of cyber attacks in the past 12 months. Each could have had a devastating impact on the U.S. and global economies. That's more than a bad dream — that's a full-blown nightmare.
But, unfortunately, it's also reality.
The U.S. government can often see the worms and viruses placed by hackers and other evil-doers in the computer networks that make up our modern world. Indeed, each of the above-referenced attacks could have been prevented by the federal government. But federal officials often can't share such information with the intended victims — usually American companies — because current law doesn't allow it.
That's why, this week, I, along with House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, am reintroducing common-sense legislation to give American companies access to certain classified information on impending cyber threats — before the attack occurs. This bill also better enables companies to call in attacks — like a 911 line for cyber emergencies — so the government can help them respond as well as prevent further spread. Last April, the House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act by a wide bipartisan majority, but it stalled in the Senate. We can't afford to let it stall again.
Highly trained Chinese, Russian and Iranian hackers are probing, pilfering and plotting every second of every day. They're often after personal data: In November, reports suggested a hacker was able to access nearly 4 million tax returns in South Carolina with a single malicious email. And they're often after the trade secrets of our companies: The media has reported that Coca-Cola may have fallen victim to hackers from a Chinese beverage company.
Many believe that what is happening to American business may be the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. It's costing our companies billions of dollars, and it's costing our country thousands of jobs.
Preventing the U.S. government from sharing information about malicious computer code it detects is akin to preventing forecasters from warning citizens about a hurricane.
Our legislation doesn't just protect companies. It will also protect every American citizen who, for example, uses electricity or banks online, or whose doctor compiles medical records electronically. Countries, criminals and terrorists are targeting the companies that you entrust with your private information every day.
It's important to note that under my legislation, your private information will also be kept private from the government. Information-sharing between companies and the government will be entirely voluntary. Businesses do not have to share information with the government in order to receive information from the government. The bill does not authorize the government to monitor your computer or read your email, Tweets or Facebook posts. Nor does it authorize the government to shut down websites or require companies to turn over personal information.
Ultimately, cybersecurity is national security. We all have a part to play. The federal government must take its first step with simple information-sharing legislation like I'm proposing. Business owners must prioritize network security. And all of us must use strong computer passwords (and not just the names of our pets) and keep our anti-virus software up to date.
We've gotten wake-up call after wake-up call. It is time to work together to prevent the cyber nightmare from becoming a crippling reality.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has represented Maryland's 2nd District since 2003. He can be reached at http://www.dutch.house.gov.