As President Biden and policymakers ready a response to the "proliferation of cyberattacks by rivals" like Russia and China, I encourage them to likewise craft a smart regulatory approach for space – one that doesn't just recognize the importance of America's global leadership role in technology but serves to reinforce it. The urgency of doing so is only underscored by the context in which the SolarWinds and Microsoft attacks appear: a staggering 400 percent increase in ever-sophisticated intrusions threatening organizations’ cybersecurity across the globe during the previous two years combined. Per CrowdStrike’s new global threat report, “hacking efforts by both cybercriminals and state-sponsored groups grew in 2020 and are unlikely to let up in 2021.”
One such approach Washington would be wise to adopt: the American Edge Project's new national security policy framework, whose solutions were shaped by decades of experience and expertise of contributing authors Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) and former White House Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend. The report, which details the profound security risks of policies that relinquish our country’s competitive tech edge to foreign entities with diametrically different values, calls for the creation of the architecture necessary for U.S. digital power. In addition, the report outlines three pillars as an initial framework to deploy that power – and thereby preserve American technology’s edge.
While the United States has traditionally benefitted from a blend of tactics that range from the military might of hard power to the delicate diplomatic maneuvers of soft power, a new approach is needed to advance our country's national security interests amid escalating cyberconflict the world over. Digital power, as the authors write will in turn “empower American technology innovation and promote it globally as a way to defend our interests and advance our values in the competition between ‘techno-democracies’ like the U.S., European Union (EU), Japan, and other democratic allies, and ‘techno-autocracies’ like Russia and China.” Digital power, therefore, is a critical means by which our country can make certain that such precious cyberspace is never ceded to those with such pernicious intentions; that a virtual vacuum is never created – and certainly never filled by foreign adversaries. And its deployment can be achieved through the three foregoing pillars of protecting the ability to innovate, securing U.S. cyber and data, and advancing a democratic and open internet.
The loss of our comfortable lead in emerging technologies to countries like China is a troubling trend that must be reversed with the speed our country's safety demands, especially as we now trail in other key tech areas like 5G deployment and the commercial drone market. Protecting the ability to innovate is imperative for U.S. national security. And techno-democracies must reemerge as, and remain, the foremost leader of the most capable and cutting-edge technologies across the board.
Meanwhile, the recent SolarWinds and Microsoft hacks serve as harrowing reminders of what’s at stake when it comes to the dire need to secure U.S. networks, data, and technology through enhanced cybersecurity. While the growing list of known SolarWinds targets includes behemoths like the "U.S. departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, State, the Treasury, and Health,” the number of victims affected by the Microsoft attack is “estimated to be in the tens of thousands and could rise." Therefore, vital to the deployment of digital power is the defense of cyber networks of American citizens, businesses, and government agencies here at home – especially given the extent to which techno-autocracies disregard data protections abroad. The U.S. technology industry can, and must, be mobilized in that effort to detect, deter, and defend against future cyber threats.
Finally, as the authors rightfully conclude, the U.S. tech industry is one of our government's greatest allies in this race against techno-autocracies not merely because of its capacity to defend data but also because of its work to develop emerging technologies. Our country exports values like a democratic, open internet, and freedom of speech whenever we export those digital products and programs. And so, per the report, "to export U.S. digital power, the government must partner with the private sector and incentivize domestic innovation to help empower the U.S. tech industry to continue to thrive at home and around the world."
America's domestic tech sector and the people who power it are clearly assets to U.S. national security interests. But more broadly, innovations born in techno-democracies like ours are antidotes to the competing global vision of techno-autocracies like Russia and China that threaten to undermine fundamental values we hold dear. Any smart policy approach to this sector must avoid forfeiting our country's competitive edge to foreign actors – and instead seek to fortify it.
Congress should build on this blueprint so that our country can work to bolster its edge.
Christopher “Chris” Carney represented Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District from 2007-2011, where he served as the Chairman of the Management, Investigations, and Oversight Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee. Prior to that, he worked as a senior counterterrorism and cybersecurity analyst at the Pentagon, focusing on the global terror threat.