Elliot Ness & Cybersecurity

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., can always be counted on to liven up an otherwise dry congressional hearing with some colorful imagery, unexpected analogies or dramatic anecdotes. He does hail from the region of the country that gave us William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams, after all. 

Fortunately, for those listening via live webcast, Senator Graham didn’t disappoint during “Cyber Threats: Law Enforcement and Private Sector Responses” held on May 8th by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

Graham built up to his questions to the witnesses – Honorable Jenny Durkan. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (state) and Agent Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division – by equating brick-and-mortar bank robberies to cyberattacks on banks. He suggested that “we should treat this [the present] like our Bonnie and Clyde moment” and referenced Elliot Ness and the creation of the F.B.I in the 1930s.  Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, D- R.I., picked-up this theme later in the hearing when he said that “We need to have our Elliot Ness moment.”

All of this talk about the government’s response to the bank robberies of the 30’s was intended to determine if the agencies before the committee had the support they needed – budgetary and legislative – to fight cybercrimes.  The two witnesses avoided a direct response to the question of adequate resources, choosing instead to focus on what they had accomplished especially in partnership with local law enforcement and the private sector.

Senator Whitehouse wrapped-up the first part of the hearing by asking for Durkan’s and Demarest’s assistance in drafting legislation to strengthen the government’s ability to prevent cyberattacks and punish cybercriminals.

Interestingly, no mention was made (at least during the first part of the hearing) of recent news that Los Alamos National Lab scientists have been using quantum Internet for the past two years. This is significant because, as was explained in the M.I.T. blog about the announcement, this quantum Internet is “capable of sending perfectly secure messages.” Whitehouse and Graham might be wise to pursue the question of whether government scientists also have the funding and staff resources they need – a tricky subject given the cuts to government labs triggered by the sequester.  Fortunately there seems to be a mounting, if slowly mounting, sense of urgency around the issue. 

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