Editorials, Opinion

Internet security just as important as access

Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito both stand opposed to President Biden’s broad infrastructure proposal. Both would prefer to see a slimmed-down version focused on traditional infrastructure. But America’s infrastructure has expanded well beyond just bridges and roads and waterways — and even mere broadband access.

The cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline last week brought into perspective just how entwined the internet is with modern infrastructure. A ransomware attack on one system caused a gasoline shortage for much of the southeast (not helped at all by the panic-buyers), illustrating just how interconnected but also vulnerable our most important systems can be. As our machines get “smarter” and our daily lives depend more and more on computer-operated equipment, it’s apparent that cybersecurity is an important part of updating and maintaining our national infrastructure.

Biden’s plan calls for $100 billion for high-speed broadband, coast-to-coast. Capito and her fellow Republicans support a much smaller budget of $65 billion (and it’s hard to tell where Manchin stands at the moment). However, given recent events, congress members on both sides of the aisle should support the larger broadband budget and insist that some of those funds are used to increase cybersecurity. The Colonial Pipeline may be a private entity, but like many of the businesses the U.S. contracts with, it has managing power over an important aspect of America’s infrastructure. That means it should have top-notch cybersecurity — and so should all government systems and contractors.

The New York Times quoted a director at SRI International who specializes in threats to industrial systems, Ulf Lindqvist: “We’ve seen ransomware start hitting soft targets like hospitals and municipalities, where losing access has real-world consequences and makes victims more likely to pay. We are talking about the risk of injury or death, not just losing your email.”

This time, the cyberattack created what was ultimately an inconvenience, albeit a widespread one. Future attacks could shut down life-saving mechanisms or disable systems essential to daily and civic functions.

In the 21st century, any conversation about infrastructure must include broadband. Our modern world doesn’t operate without the internet. And any conversation about the internet can’t just be about access — it must also be about security, because as access expands, opportunities for cyberattacks increase. That’s why any infrastructure plan coming  out of Washington, D.C. — whether it be the president’s, the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ — must allocate funds not just for creating broadband access but for updating and maintaining internet security. America’s future depends on it.