Nov 1, 2018

Candidates struggle to make cybersecurity an election issue

Cybersecurity is a growing problem in the United States, both as a domestic and international issue — but it's not one that brings people to the ballot box.

The big picture: Candidates who want to make cybersecurity a priority in government can't make the case a centerpiece of an election campaign.

The stakes are high.

  • The world has already seen a single government-launched malware attack (NotPetya) cause billions of dollars in damage to civilians.
  • Companies face billions of dollars in losses from corporate espionage conducted by nation states.

Here's how two House candidates with backgrounds in the cybersecurity field, one Democrat and one Republican, are handling the issue.

Upstate New York

“How do you think we’re going to be attacked next?” asks Tracy Mitrano, Democratic candidate for New York's 23rd Congressional District.

Mitrano, a former director of information technology policy at in-district Cornell University, says that national cybersecurity is one of the key reasons she’s running in 2016.

It just can’t be a key campaign issue. That's because, by Mitrano’s stats, only 4% of her mostly rural district view cybersecurity as a top issue.

  • In a region still struggling with getting broadband internet access, residents have first hand experience with other needs ­— mostly, jobs.
  • “The public does not understand the issue enough for it to be the big issue. And I don’t blame them. They are not getting the leadership they need from Tom Reed and other legislators,” she says, taking a swipe at her opponent.

San Antonio, Texas

Across the country, in San Antonio, a hub for the burgeoning cybersecurity industry, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) says that he’s asked once or twice at each town hall about cybersecurity.

  • “Almost every American has been impacted. They’ve needed to replace a stolen credit card or know someone whose identity has been stolen,” he said.
  • “People have been very clear that it is an issue. People are not clear what the issue is,” he said.

Hurd is known for his work in cybersecurity and federal IT issues. He is a rare lawmaker with a cybersecurity background, having been a senior advisor to the security firm FusionX.

The bottom line: Both Hurd and Mitrano believe Congress lacks cybersecurity expertise. Neither think it's an issue someone can run on.

  • Mitrano says she has focused her campaign around bringing jobs to her region through education and health care.
  • Hurd notes that if expertise doesn’t come from new blood in the halls of Congress, it could come from current members stepping up to learn the skill.
  • He singled out Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) as someone who he’s worked closely with on cybersecurity legislation who didn’t come from a tech background.  
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