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Kerry on Cybersecurity

At his confirmation hearing today to become the next U.S. Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., was asked about cybersecurity.  Here’s what he had to say in his question-and-answer round with Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.


Senator Durbin:  I think you may have attended the briefing, the classified briefing for members of the Senate, Democrats and Republicans. And they explained to this -- to us this invisible war that goes on even as we meet between the United States and many who are not our friends that are trying to invade us, invade our infrastructure, invade our technology, and do great harm to us, not just in economic terms, but in terms of human life.

And we are told this is the most serious threat facing us today. It brings to mind the fact that in the 21st century, war as we know it is much different. It is a war involving the invisible workings of computers. It is a war involving drones and aircraft.

So I'd like you, if you could, to just reflect on this in terms of the role of the secretary of state of the United States and negotiations to make us safer in a world where cybersecurity is our greatest threat.

Senator Kerry:  Well, Senator, that's a huge question. And you've hit the nail on the head with respect to a significant threat. And as you know, there is legislation, or there was legislation last year which we tried to get through here which would have helped us, a very small step, incidentally, in -- in trying to deal with this issue.

Much of this, as you know, is classified. And so it's hard, you know, to sort of lay it out in full before the American people. But every day, while we sit here right now, certain countries are attacking our systems. They are trying to hack in to classified information, to various agencies of our government, to banking structures. Money has been stolen from accounts and moved in large sums from entities.

I mean, there's a long list of grievances with respect to what this marvel of the Internet and -- and the technology age has brought us.

But it's threatening. It is threatening to our power grid. It's threatening to our communications. It's threatening, therefore, to our capacity to respond.

And there are people out there who know it, and there are some countries that we're currently engaged with -- and all the senators know who they are -- who have a very good understanding of this power and who are pursuing it.

So it is sort of the modern day, I guess I'd call it the 21st century nuclear weapons equivalent. And that we are going to have to engage in cyber-diplomacy and cyber-negotiations, and try to establish rules of the road that help us to be able to cope with this challenge.

Now, I -- I -- you know, there are enormous difficulties ahead in that because, as you know, and I think I'll just be -- try to be very brief about it, I think most diplomacy is an extension of the particular nation's interests, and in some cases it's an extension of their values.

And sometimes you get a terrific opportunity to mix the two, and then you really can do things that meet all of your aspirations. But sometimes, you know, you're more weighted towards the interests than the values. And you can all pick different countries and different things we've done that meet that.

This is one where we're going to have to find a way to address the interests of other states to somehow find common ground, if that makes sense. And I -- I, you know, we're just going to have to dig into it a lot deeper. I don't have a magic silver bullet to throw at you here today.

Senator Durbin:  I wanted to bring it up because I think it is topical and timely in terms of our 21st century challenge. And when you become secretary of state, which I believe you will and hope you will, this will be front and center. 

Public Policy Tags: Cybersecurity