Just this weekend, Washington, D.C., and much of the East Coast was hit by massive snow storms. Severe weather conditions can strain a city’s resources and risk lives even under the best conditions. But imagine if, taking advantage of the situation, a sophisticated cyber attack had also taken down the electrical grid, snarling communications, disabling emergency services and hospitals — even robbing people in their homes of life-saving heat. How would America have responded? How serious a toll on human life could it have taken? It is frightening to think about just how reliant we are on technology, and just how vulnerable that can make our society.
Cyber security must be a national priority — not only to protect our nation, but to protect ourselves and our neighbors.
This vulnerability is the unsettling reality of the modern world. Recent cyber attacks causing blackouts in Ukraine demonstrate that online attacks can have real-world consequences. Combined with a torrential stream of attacks that steal our financial, trade and national security information, cyber attacks are among the greatest threats to our country and our citizens. Identity theft alone is estimated to cost anywhere from $25 billion to $50 billion annually. Meanwhile, the leaching of corporate trade secrets and copyright material continues to hinder American businesses globally. Even the U.S. military’s new F-35 fighter jet appears to have been copied by the Chinese air force from stolen plans and schematics. Cyber security must be a national priority — not only to protect our nation, but to protect ourselves and our neighbors.
This is not the first time the United States has faced so daunting a challenge. In the early 1960s, due to Soviet advances in space and rocketry science, America was in danger of losing the space race, ceding a potential tactical and military advantage to the USSR. President Kennedy boldly proclaimed that by the end of the decade, the U.S. would put a man on the surface of the moon. It was a seemingly impossible task, but one that unified the American people behind a common purpose. That drive for American exceptionalism became a defining characteristic of the era, and when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface, it was undeniable proof of America’s ability to accomplish any feat when singularly focused. What America needs now is a new “moon shot” for the 21st century.
Just as NASA helped centralize America’s efforts in the space race, the NCSA will be instrumental in winning the cyberspace race.
As president, I will prioritize America’s cyber sector, bringing together private, public and government resources to secure and advance America’s online presence. Central to this initiative is the establishment of a National Cyber Security Administration (NCSA). Just as NASA helped centralize America’s efforts in the space race, the NCSA will be instrumental in winning the cyberspace race. This is not another federal bureaucracy. On the contrary, the NCSA will consolidate inefficient government initiatives and offices, eliminating stovepipes and providing a central point for public-private cooperation.
Throughout our history, America’s first line of defense has always been “We the people.” Building a national cyber defense is no exception. Our vulnerabilities often begin with insecure personal computers and unsafe online practices at home or within private companies. Hackers and cyber armies often prey upon our lack of preparation, using personal computers either as bots to aid future attacks or as a means to spread viruses into their target computers. Our top priority must be educating all Americans to better protect themselves. We must also educate a new generation of students who excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The NCSA will work with educational institutions, school districts and coding organizations to recruit tomorrow’s innovators today.
This new administration will also serve as a liaison between law enforcement and private industry and infrastructure. Critical incident and threat information is currently stovepiped in government and law-enforcement bureaucracies. Centralizing federal responses and cooperation will greatly improve America’s ability to respond to cyber attacks. At the same time, the NCSA can work with cyber security firms to advance methods for detecting and destroying the botnets that empower many hackers and cyber armies, as well as researching new threats and vulnerabilities.
By consolidating the federal government’s disparate and inefficient privacy offices, my cyber plan will give the American people one streamlined resource for all complaints, concerns and questions.
When cyber attacks and data breaches do occur, the NCSA will lead investigations and ensure accountability where people failed to abide by the law. When a plane crashes, the NTSB investigates every aspect of the crash, down to the bolts on the aircraft, determining if anyone is at fault. What happened when the Office of Personnel Management was breached, losing control over millions of sensitive personal records? When our veterans had their personal information stolen from the Veterans Administration, was anyone held accountable? The NCSA will ensure accountability for anyone who willfully mishandles private or classified information, regardless of their station or connections.
Finally, the NCSA will be a central resource for digital privacy and civil liberties. By consolidating the federal government’s disparate and inefficient privacy offices, my cyber plan will give the American people one streamlined resource for all complaints, concerns and questions. The administration will also promulgate advice to private sector industries and issue clear guidance on standards and practices that would apply equally across all government agencies.
America is locked in a 21st century cyberspace race, not just with other nations, but with terrorist groups, hacking collectives and criminal organizations. We cannot ignore these rising challenges, and we cannot afford to lose this race. “We the People” are our greatest national resource, and I will bring our country together to unify our national efforts and drive America as the world’s leader in cyber innovation.
Dr. Ben Carson a retired pediatric neurosurgeon and Republican candidate for president. Reach him @RealBenCarson.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.