Senator Rounds’ weekly column: Defending Against a Cyber-Attack

Defending Against a Cyber-Attack
By Senator Mike Rounds

As many of our nation’s top military officials have pointed out, we are facing some of the most serious threats since World War II. But unlike World War II, some of today’s threats differ significantly from the nuclear and conventional military threats that have largely shaped our national security programs for many decades. 

As we saw during the Paris terror attacks last fall, terrorists are using sophisticated technology to help carry out their attacks. Technological advances – and our increasing dependence on information technology for all aspects of our lives – also means we are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the cyber threat is one of my greatest national security concerns. 

I recently introduced legislation to help streamline the hiring process for cybersecurity professionals at the Department of Defense (DOD). The Cyber Command Employment Personnel Training Act of 2016 would improve DOD’s hiring practices by making certain DOD hiring officials are trained on new hiring and pay flexibilities for civilian cybersecurity employees. These flexibilities permit faster hiring and higher pay for these employees than is normally the case for the U.S. civil service.

Civilian cybersecurity employees play a vital role in mitigating cyber threats against our nation, and expedited hiring and pay authorities are key to placing them quickly at pay levels that are competitive with the private sector. However, these hiring and pay-related authorities work only if hiring officials at DOD are aware of them. My legislation will make certain those officials are trained on these authorities as they seek to fill cybersecurity positions in their organizations.

This bill would be especially beneficial for universities like Dakota State University (DSU) in Madison. DSU is a leader in cybersecurity efforts, integrating technology into the culture of the entire campus. I am pleased to work with DSU on this legislation to improve this process and help assure DOD is working with the best possible talent. In turn, our armed forces will be better equipped to deal with cyber threats on our nation.

I recently had an opportunity to discuss DOD’s cyber-defense policy. One issue of concern, which I brought up during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, is that our government has not clearly defined when a cyber-attack constitutes an act of war. During the hearing, top intelligence officials confirmed that it would be beneficial to have a clear policy that provides this definition. I believe a clear and coherent policy on what constitutes an act of war would help DOD respond to attacks in a timely manner as well as deter potential attackers. 

There is much work to be done to meet the many challenges of cybersecurity, but I am confident we will meet these challenges. We have the most innovative military and economy in the world. I will continue to seek solutions to better protect our nation from mounting and potentially catastrophic cyber threats.