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July 21, 2021

“We Have to Reimagine Conflict” – King Outlines Nightmare Scenarios of Cybervulnerabilities in America’s Water Systems

Senator King: “Conflict now is almost entirely in the cyberspace area, focused on the private sector, on noncombatants.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), today pressed for action to protect U.S. water systems from cyber intrusions. His remarks came at the start of a hearing of the Environmental and Public Works Committee focused on cybersecurity of the U.S. water systems, given a recent spate of attempted cyberattacks on America’s water supply. Senator King’s expert testimony was requested by the committee leadership, and he shared his insights beside his CSC co-chair, Representative Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). 

“I once appeared before a middle school group with my friend Stephen King – the other King from Maine – and a little girl raised her hand and asked, ‘do you ever have nightmares?’  Stephen King’s response was, ‘no, I give them to you.’ That’s my job today: to give you a nightmare about the vulnerability of our water systems,” said Senator King. “This is an extremely dangerous situation – I believe that the next Pearl Harbor, the next 9/11 will be cyber. And we are facing a vulnerability in all of our systems, but water is one of the most critical and I think one of the most vulnerable...

“We have to reimagine conflict. For a thousand years, we thought of conflict and wars as army against army, navy against navy battles out in some other place,” continued Senator King. “Conflict now is almost entirely in the cyberspace area, focused on the private sector, on noncombatants, if you will. And that's why we're in a different way of thinking about this kind of issue. And we have to think about a new relationship between the government, particularly the federal government and the private sector – 85 percent of the target in cyberspace are in the private sector in this country.

“There is an incipient nightmare here and it involves all sectors of our critical infrastructure – but water, I think, is probably the most vulnerable because of the dispersed nature of water systems in the country…,” Senator King added. “I look forward to working with you as we try to work through the solutions and the two to have to have our game at the level of our adversaries. This is a potential nightmare, but it's one that we can wake up from, if indeed we wake up.”

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, Senator King is recognized as one of Congress’s leading experts on cyberdefense and a strong advocate for a forward-thinking cyberstrategy that emphasizes layered cyberdeterrence. Earlier this month, he celebrated the swearing-in of former CSC commissioner, Chris Inglis, as the inaugural National Cyber Director (NCD). The NCD was included in the 25 bipartisan cybersecurity recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission passed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which Senator King voted for. The legislation became law earlier this year after Senator King and the overwhelming majority of his colleagues voted to override former President Trump’s veto.

The CSC was established by statute in the 2019 NDAA, officially launched in April 2019, and will continue to execute its statutory mission through December 2021. The Commissioners convened nearly every Monday that Congress was in session for a year, and its staff conducted more than 400 engagements, drawing upon the expertise of corporate leaders, federal, state and local officials, academics, and cybersecurity experts. The meetings and the ensuing report sought to strengthen America’s posture in cyberspace and identify opportunities to improve our national preparedness to defend ourselves against cyberattacks. 

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