Photo by Richard Allen

Congressman Langevin discusses complex challenges in cybersecurity during visit to NUWC Division Newport

On Nov. 28, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), made his final visit to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, as the representative of Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, to give a speech on the challenges of maintaining cybersecurity superiority.

“I have to admit, I’m a little sentimental being here for my final speech at the NUWC campus as a sitting member of Congress,” Langevin told the workforce. “As you know, I decided not to seek re-election so my term will come to a close at the end of this year, but I really am thrilled to speak with you during such a crucial moment in world history. As we combat threats from around the globe, the ability to project power has never been more critical than it is right now.

“Each of you working here to provide for our common defense recognize the promise of innovation and bring it to bear when the country needs it most. Your work has never been more important than it is right now.”

In addition to speaking with and fielding questions from the workforce, Langevin was presented with a Cyber Challenge coin by Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings and Technical Director Ron Vien.

“Thank you for coming here and sharing your thoughts on this important subject, and thank you for your support of NUWC Newport, Rhode Island and the nation,” Hennings said. “I understand this is your last visit in an official capacity, but you’re always welcome to come back to NUWC Division Newport in this next stage in your life.”

“We clearly deal with cybersecurity from our systems here, but to hear from Congressman Langevin the efforts that are taking place at the national level, to be able to ensure all the systems across the nation are safe, is inspiring to hear,” Vien added. “I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for our organization.”

A regular visitor to Division Newport during his 22 years in Congress, Langevin was invited as a follow-on to the command’s observation of Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October that offered briefings and events aimed at educating the workforce about cybersecurity.

While it was not his focus when first elected to Congress in 2000, Langevin has become one of the country’s premier legislators in the field of cybersecurity. He is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, in which he chairs the Cyber, Innovative Technologies and Information Systems Subcommittee. He is a senior member of the committee on Homeland Security, and serves on its subcommittees on cybersecurity and infrastructure protection, and emergency preparedness, response and communications. Langevin is one of four legislators appointed to serve on the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, and he is co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.

Throughout his talk, Langevin highlighted the complex and dynamic cyber threats faced by the U.S., as well as what the country is doing to combat them. While this includes traditional warfare challenges, such as China working overtime to outpace the U.S. military industrial base as both countries increase shipbuilding, Langevin said, the cyber capabilities of adversaries are also a concern.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about more unconventional threats and how we must respond to them, particularly in the digital domain,” Langevin said. “Due to the interconnected nature of the American society and the vulnerabilities of the systems and networks on which we rely, our adversaries can try to even the odds by targeting us in cyberspace, undermining the advantages that we enjoy.

“As China scales up its military capabilities, the Chinese Communist Party also has developed its ability to wield its cyber capabilities in support of its widespread, persistent and aggressive espionage enterprise, which has enabled the theft of trillions of dollars of Western technology, trade secrets and intellectual property.”

Cyberwarfare both includes and goes beyond the gray zones, Langevin explained, as the ability to sabotage critical infrastructure through cyberattacks is of particular concern.

“Much of this activity is driven by cyber-criminal groups that are as amoral as they are relentless in their pursuit of profit — and profit they certainly have — but state actors are just as capable, if not more so, of targeting critical infrastructure,” Langevin said. “They could exploit our vulnerabilities to commit acts of extortion or sabotage that fall below the traditional threshold of armed conflict but could nonetheless have a powerful, coercive effect. Clearly, we never know when these cyber-criminal groups are teaming up with government, or when government may be behind the efforts of these criminal groups.”

Cyber capabilities have become an integral part of modern warfare, the congressman added, citing the war in Ukraine as an example. Since the start of the war, Langevin said, Russia has attempted — with limited success — to use a number of cyber capabilities, including overloading Ukrainian government websites with web traffic, planting destructive malware in Ukrainian systems, and launching cyberattacks against satellite and internet providers to cause widespread communications outages.

“Russia’s cyber aggression has not achieved the destructive effect that many outside observers expected that it would. It highlights how effective Ukraine’s cybersecurity efforts have been in its overall national defense,” Langevin said. “To date, Russia has not been able to disrupt the Ukrainian power grid through cyber means, something that it did twice in the years after the invasion of Crimea. That of course doesn’t mean that they haven’t had kinetic effects in taking down parts of the power grid and most recently its nuclear power plants, but it hasn’t been through cyberattacks.

“Despite their setbacks, we would be foolish to underestimate the Russians’ abilities to wreak havoc in cyberspace. Clearly, they can. Russia has a well-earned reputation for using cyber operations to compromise the critical infrastructure of other nations, interfere in other nation’s elections and recklessly launch destructive malware attacks with widespread, global consequences. Perhaps more than any other country, Russia has shown a capability and desire to conduct sophisticated cyber operations against its adversaries.”

Given that cyberspace is a clear and recognized domain of warfare, Langevin highlighted some of the steps he has helped put in place so that the country is prepared for the fight today and in the future.

He noted the creation of U.S. Cyber Command as a unified combatant command in 2018, as well as the formation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the same year. Langevin also discussed the National Cyber Director Act to create the aforementioned position within the Executive Office of the President, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to provide cybersecurity funding for state and local governments, and the 220 provisions of cyber-centric legislation passed into law in the past four years. Langevin hopes this number will increase to 300 with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“The work is clearly not nearly complete. There is so much more that is left to do and a lot of progress to be made with training our cyber workforce, which is still one of the glaring holes that we need to work on filling,” Langevin said. “Conversations and discussions like this only prove that we must continue to ensure that people working within the national security landscape have the education and training they need to succeed when it comes to increasingly complex issues within the cyber and emerging technology domains.”

Even still, as Langevin prepares for the next phase of his life after Congress, he remains convinced the U.S. is prepared for the fight ahead — particularly in undersea warfare.

“There is no better place to conduct this work than right here in Rhode Island, where the expertise that you all possess continue to push the envelope,” Langevin said. “My pride for the NUWC workforce and the technologies that you produce will last well-beyond my tenure in Congress — I can assure you of that.

“You all stand on the front lines of undersea warfare, helping to ensure that our nation can stay one-step ahead of those who wish us harm. With our nation’s undersea capabilities in your hands, I am confident the United States will be well-positioned to win in the 21st century.”



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