Cybersecurity expert outlines worries to House committee

March 11, 2023


Missouri news network

March 6, 2023

JEFFERSON CITY — A former U.S. Air Force cyber operations specialist reviewed digital concerns ranging from phishing attacks to TikTok for a House committee.

Cybersecurity has received attention this legislative session, with several bills proposed thus far in response to security concerns.

For example, Senate Bill 380 and House Bill 668, would create one-time grants of up to $15,000 to employers for the purpose of “enhancing cybersecurity.” HB 668 has been approved in two House committees, while the Senate equivalent has not yet had a committee hearing.

In his testimony, retired Maj. Kevin Keeney, who has previously testified before the U.S. Senate on cybersecurity threats, expressed concern about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to cyber attacks, including water, power and agricultural industries.

“Planes, trains, and automobiles,” Keeney said. “The logistics supply chain would be great targets if you were trying to achieve disruption in the food supply.”

When Rep. Bill Allen, R-Kansas City, asked how often important Missouri infrastructure was being subjected to cyber attacks, Keeney answered, “Always, all the time, every second.”

Cyber attacks can take a variety of forms. One example Keeney gave is called distributed denial of service attacks, which occur when a digital target, such as a website, is barraged with more requests for information than it can handle.

Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, the committee chair, asked Keeney his thoughts on TikTok, which has received considerable attention because of its ownership by Chinese company ByteDance.

“First and foremost, I don’t allow it in my house,” Keeney said. “Or on any of my children’s phones, which they don’t like very much.”

House Bill 919, sponsored by Schnelting, would prohibit any apps that are owned by the Chinese government or by a company that shares user data with the Chinese government from being downloaded onto government devices. TikTok has denied allegations that it shares user data with the Chinese government.

The move would not be unprecedented. In February, TikTok was banned on all Canadian government devices. More than 20 states have already banned its use on state-owned phones.

Famously, former president Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok nationwide in 2020 on national security grounds. As the New York Times has reported, new efforts in that direction recently resumed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Keeney said that firewalls were not effective against modern cyber threats, and that he supported more intense identity verification measures to prevent digital security breaches, including facial recognition and multi-factor authentication.

When asked by the Missourian, Keeney said he felt new cybersecurity legislation on both the state and federal level was important.

“I think it needs both,” Keeney said. “The good thing about our democracy is the 54 states and territories are all like little incubation cells of innovation. Sometimes states are going to come up with great ideas that drive federal policy.”