In February 2016, cyber criminals who were angry about U.S. relations with Israel hacked into the U.S. Department of Justice’s database and released information on 10,000 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees as well as 20,000 FBI employees, according to CNN. 2016 saw quite a few attacks from other countries, probably the most famous being the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Cyber attacks from outside the U.S. are a major international concern to the country, say 72% of Americans polled in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. Coming in first on the list was Islamic terrorist group ISIS, and 55% of Americans see refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria as a threat.
Criminals see infrastructure as a huge target, and according to the DHS, there are 16 sectors of the economy that could be a potential target. If any of these sectors were to be attacked, that attack could have a “debilitating effect on security.” If a power grid gets hacked, entire cities, including hospitals, traffic signals and public transportation could go dark. If an oil and gas provider gets hacked, machinery could stop producing oil, or overproduce, causing real impacts in the cities in which they are located.
As attacks mount, DHS is working to implement some policies to increase defenses around the infrastructure and the country – both physical and online.
Creating Infrastructure Protection
Federal and local governments, as well as companies and individuals, need to work together to protect the infrastructure, and there are several public-private partnerships formed to help with this, including the Critical Infrastructure Cross-Sector Council and the Federal Senior Leadership Council. According to the DHS, these all work together to share threats and mitigate risks, among other things. The private sector owns much of the infrastructure, so collaboration with these groups is key.
The DHS, through the Office of Infrastructure Protection, provides training and education to partners and also helps them to reach regulatory compliance and manage risks. The Office of Cybersecurity and Communications also helps to improve the security and dependability of the communications infrastructure.
Monitoring Electronic Devices at the Border and Beyond
The DHS, which was formed in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, works to prevent future attacks on the U.S., including monitoring who is entering the country. Sometimes this requires unpopular practices, which have recently come under scrutiny, such as implementing cybersecurity protocols.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the authority to search electronic devices of anyone entering the country, and they can do so without that person’s consent. However, they cannot search anyone’s cloud data, according to NBC News. Travelers are not required to unlock their devices or give passwords, but border agents can “detain” the phone. In response to this practice, two U.S. senators introduced a bill that would make it illegal for border agents to search devices without probable cause, and this includes Americans coming back into the country who have been forced to give up passwords and access to social media accounts.
“Americans’ constitutional rights shouldn’t disappear at the border,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in an interview.
In addition, the DHS proposed an amendment to its regulations in 2017 that would permit them to collect data from immigrants’ social media history, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The rules would allow DHS to collect data on all immigrants, including green card holders and naturalized citizens, according to CNet.
DHS said in a statement that the amendment is not a new policy, but that they are simply continuing to monitor social media to protect the U.S. from attacks.