America must strengthen its defenses against cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and cyber-espionage against its economy.
After failing last year to get Congress to pass legislation to safeguard the systems that run America's electricity grids, oil and gas pipelines, dams and banks, President Barack Obama issued an executive order Tuesday letting the government share with private institutions overseeing these facilities information on real-time threats. Imposing necessary protection requirements on the companies will require congressional action.
Last August Senate Republicans used a filibuster to kill a House-passed bill that would have remedied the situation. They said it would have cost companies too much to install the protection needed. The Senate took this action despite hearings at which the homeland security secretary, the FBI director, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others testified on the need for the bill.
Hackers in 2012 carried out 198 attacks on information systems in parts of the nation's critical infrastructure, including pipelines and electrical grids. The number was up 52 percent from the year before. Some of the attacks were successful, enabling hackers to get inside and disrupt the operations of these organizations. The potential for disaster, including death and destruction, is large.
Another, related threat to society is a long-term, sustained cyber-espionage campaign against many important U.S. companies and institutions, described in a National Intelligence Estimate that has not yet been made public. This campaign has been waged largely by China, but attacks have come also from France, Israel and Russia, seeking the secrets of companies in the fields of aerospace, automobiles, energy, finance and information technology. Estimates of the cost of this assault, much of it in quest of military technology, run as high as $100 billion.
The long and short of it is that, for whatever reason, cost or political obstructiveness, America's defenses against cyberassault have been allowed to lag, far behind the technology available to America's attackers. Urgent action is required.
Mr. Obama has taken a step, but much more is needed, quickly, from Congress. This is not a partisan issue.