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Cybersecurity & Consumer Data: What's at Risk for the Consumer?

Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection
November 19, 2003
10:00 AM
2123 Rayburn House Office Building 

Prepared Statement of The Honorable W.J. "Billy" Tauzin

Mr. Chairman, Thank you for calling this important hearing today.

Cyber security is a very serious concern in today's digital world, and as our global economy and all of our lives rely more and more on computers, it will become essential that we ensure that our nation's computers-corporate, government, and personal computers-are safe from the hackers and other malefactors in the digital environment. We've learned in the last few years how much damage viruses and worms, such as "Sobig.F" and "Blaster," can do to our computer infrastructure. In fact, the New York Times estimated that the cost of the "I Love you" virus alone-which seriously affected this House and this Committee-may have reached as much as $15 Billion.

Computers affect almost every aspect of our daily lives. From our computers at home and our personal e-mail accounts, to the daily work of the public and private sectors, the role of computers in our society is so ubiquitous as to go almost unnoticed at times. The security of these systems however cannot go unnoticed. Not only can the e-mail system of the House of Representatives be hindered or disabled, but one shudders to think of the damage that could be done to countless consumers if someone was able to infiltrate one of the many enormous databases in this country and steal the personal information-from credit card numbers to music preferences-of millions of Americans.

This kind of theft and misuse of personal data is not yet a widespread problem, but unless we all facilitate and encourage open discussion about how we best combat the bad actors, we will only see these problems grow. Most computer scientists don't say "if" when discussing this possibility, they say "when." They believe that a truly debilitating virus will inevitably make its way around the Internet sometime in the relatively near future. Companies must take a preventive approach when looking at solutions to security problems. They must realize that, as the old adage says, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We must combat technology with technology. Investment must be made in the security of vital and sensitive systems, in order to ensure the confidence of the American people in the retail, banking, and health care computer systems they depend upon.

But simply investing in technology to combat viruses is not enough. In the end, the private sector and the American people must work in concert to best protect the computers and networks we all use. The private sector needs to reevaluate its vulnerabilities as well as its current security priorities. The public needs to be better educated about anti-virus software and personal firewalls for their home computers, as well as the insidious "SpyWare" technology that can monitor individuals' computers and their actions on the Internet. I know the gentlelady from California, Ms. Bono, has introduced a bill-H.R. 2929, "The Safeguard Against Privacy Invasions Act"-that attempts to deal with this concern, and I look forward to working with her on the bill to try to prevent these intrusions.

In the end, Mr. Chairman, it seems that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, and this problem is not going to go away on its own. It is up to all of us to work together to safeguard our computer infrastructure to prevent the next serious virus from becoming a nationwide, indeed even a worldwide problem.

Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.