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America is launching a new body to tackle cyber threats to key infrastructure

July 31, 2018

The National Risk Management Center will coordinate efforts to frustrate hackers targeting everything from the country’s power grids to its electoral system

The news: The Wall Street Journal says the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is creating the new organization to improve the way companies and the government defend critical parts of the economy against cyberattacks. The DHS has already identified 16 of these sectors that make tempting targets for hackers.

The fears: Barely a day goes by without new evidence of cyber threats to one or another of these areas. There are fears that Russian hackers are targeting power plants and other energy-related infrastructure; there’s concern attackers will subvert tech running the US midterm elections; and we’ve seen this year that ransomware, which locks up data by encrypting it, can plunge an entire city like Atlanta into chaos.

The criticism: The Trump administration has been lambasted for scrapping the role of White House national cybersecurity tsar, and for creating confusion over who has authority in government to coordinate responses to threats against key infrastructure. The new body is an attempt to silence the critics.

Center forward: The idea is for companies to work voluntarily with the DHS and other agencies to develop more coordinated ways to tackle risks they face. The center will be staffed by DHS employees, and some will be assigned to private firms that sign up to work with it. Given the deeply worrying scale of the cyber threats America’s facing, the more public-private collaboration there is, the better.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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