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Gardner: Changing Battlefield Calls for Creation of Senate Cybersecurity Committee

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) arrives at the Capitol for a vote on Oct. 19, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) on Thursday called for the creation of a Senate committee devoted to cybersecurity, while equating modern cyber warfare to the Wild West.

Gardner, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy, said at the Hudson Institute that he’s been receiving more comments and questions about the massive Equifax data breach than any other issue recently.

He described how attackers don’t need a “billion-dollar” army to carry out a breach that could impact millions of Americans because the cost of hacking is cheap. The Equifax breach reportedly could impact as many as 143 million Americans. This new battlefield, Gardner said, undermines American psyche and citizens’ trust in institutions.

“The day that people go into the bank and their decimal is off by a couple dollars, the day a hospital sees that the prescriptions in their systems have been changed by a milligram or two, that trust collapses, and it is frightening to think of the consequences,” he said.

He argued that no nation on Earth is currently equipped to deal with the vast amount of cyber threats in the world, calling it a Wild West arena that lacks any accountability.

“Long gone are the days of Oregon Trail on your Apple IIe,” Gardner said. “That is now going around the globe and connecting everybody to the Oregon Trail right in your living room globally, so to speak.”

Gardner suggested placing every committee chairman and ranking member on this new cyber committee, and allowing lawmakers to take a “whole of government” view on cyber vulnerabilities. The U.S. government spends about $90 billion annually on major information technology acquisition, and Gardner said it’s essential to ensure that those systems are safe.

“If we’re going to have billions of (internet of things) devices attached to the internet, which we are going to and do have, those create entry points,” he said. “Every single one of them is an entry point and creates a vulnerability.”

Without naming the individual, Gardner said that he was speaking with a CEO of a major tech company recently, who told him that most recent attacks that have been reported publicly could have been avoided with “some basic computer hygiene policies.”

Thursday’s discussion with Gardner also touched on U.S. foreign relations in Asia. Though Gardner “commended” China for not getting in the way of the latest UN Security Council resolution sanctions levied against North Korea, he said China needs to do more. He mentioned the frequently cited statistic that about 90 percent of North Korea’s economy is fed through China, but Gardner said that about 10 Chinese businesses are responsible for about 30 percent of that trade.

Gardner said his frustration with China is that it has taken a harder line on policies against South Korea. The Colorado senator claimed that China has cost the South Korean economy about $12 billion, partly through the closures of Chinese plants supporting industry in South Korea.

“If they would take that same concentrated approach to North Korea, we would actually be getting somewhere,” Gardner said.

Gardner described North Korea as America’s most urgent national security threat, citing similar claims from Defense Secretary James Mattis and retired Adm. William E. Gortney.