Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson is more concerned about a cyberattack crippling the government than another Jan. 6-type assault on the Capitol, she said in an interview aired Saturday on CNN.
“Our networks … have attempted intrusions every single day. And so, cybersecurity for me is a much greater concern than the prospect of thousands of people storming the West Terrace,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s comments come in wake of several significant cyberattacks on critical U.S. infrastructure, including a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline that crippled East Coast fuel supply last month and another on a major U.S. meat producer this week. Security analysts warned the USDA last month that ransomware could have more impact on the U.S. food supply than Covid-19 had.
Gibson said she agreed with FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statement earlier this week that the threat posed by ransomware has “a lot of parallels” to 9/11.
Gibson, who served in the military for 33 years and was a senior intelligence officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, replaced Michael Stenger, who resigned after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Jennifer Hemingway filled the role in the interim before Gibson took over the job. Gibson helped in a security review in the wake of the insurrection.
Gibson told CNN that she has a strong cybersecurity team, but still views it as a more significant concern than another Capitol siege.
“Members have sensitive information that they would not necessarily want to have disclosed that may be in documents. Much of what we do is public. And meant to be so,” Gibson said. “But I would worry about … nation-state actors or others who might try to just really cripple the government’s ability to function by locking down cybercommunications networks.”
President Joe Biden has proposed $750 million in funding for federal agencies’ cybersecurity in the wake of the SolarWinds attack. In mid-May, Biden issued an executive order overhauling the federal government’s cybersecurity, and the White House has called on private companies to invest more in cybersecurity measures, with a significant portion of key infrastructure controlled by the private sector.
“The Colonial Pipeline incident is a reminder that federal action alone is not enough,” the White House said in May. The White House said the attack on meat processing company JBS came from a “criminal organization likely based in Russia.” The FBI has implicated an Eastern Europe-based hacking group in the pipeline attack.
In wake of the Jan. 6 attack, many in Congress have now agreed on removing the fencing around the Capitol, but the Capitol Police Board ultimately makes that call.
In April, Gibson told NPR that she supports security reform but also supports public access to the Capitol.
“We could keep the three-mile fence up with razor wire and National Guard,” Gibson said. “But that defeats the purpose of having the people’s house that is available and open to constituents, to allowing school groups and tourists to come and, you know, frankly, marvel at the beauty and the history of this building.”
In the Jan. 6 insurrection, pro-Trump rioters were able to breach the Senate chamber in the deadly assault.