Colbeck: Cybersecurity again found lacking

Senator Patrick Colbeck

Senator Patrick Colbeck

Short-run convenience trumping long-run risks

LANSING, Mich.State Sen. Patrick Colbeck spoke Tuesday about two reports released late last week that he says could help guide Michigan policy but that he is concerned will likely will be shrugged off as similar past findings have.

The first report is from the state’s auditor general and examines Michigan government’s cybersecurity efforts. A separate report from the Department of Homeland Security shows how vulnerable the nation’s utilities are to hacking and outside control.

“Michigan governmental policy is easily distracted by what is technologically bright and shiny,” said Colbeck, R-Canton. “We frequently rush into expanding technology before we fully know if its benefits outweigh the risks to taxpayer wallets, identity theft, safety, and the security of our rights, such as voting. As an aerospace engineer and certified IT specialist, I am personally a huge proponent of technology, but when we’re looking at government policy that affects the entire public, we can’t continue to have the risks of newer technology be an afterthought.”

Last Thursday Colbeck was the lone “no” vote on legislation that would allow for online voter registration because of concerns he had over the state’s cybersecurity and election system integrity. Michigan’s auditor general has since come out with a highly critical report documenting a multitude of problems with the state’s management of its computer systems and database security.

“When we’re talking about our state’s computer systems, we have to remember that what we are really talking about is our personal data, whether that be in our voting files, our tax returns, or other areas,” Colbeck said. “We’re passing policy that is opening ourselves up to more and more risk at the very same time we keep seeing that we’re plainly falling behind on our ability to mitigate it.

“For example, as some want to move us towards online voting, all it will take is just one major election breach to make that increased convenience look like people taking their front doors off their hinges as the best way to let the dog out at night. In retrospect we’ll all wonder what we were thinking.”

Colbeck also pointed to the recent news on utility companies being hacked as another example where we’re increasing risk for the wrong reasons, especially when it comes to putting the wants of industry over the needs of the public. Colbeck cited the rush into smart meter deployment and hasty 5G equipment rollouts as examples where speed is trumping the appropriate weighing of public risk.

“We just saw that DTE is already shutting off power to people it shouldn’t because of computer errors,” Colbeck said. “So why are we responding to that by allowing them to make more computerized shut-offs via smart meters and further automate the process? We really need to look at the new Homeland Security report, and not just say ‘I really hope someone is doing something.’ We have to recognize much of what is driving all this is not what is best for the public, and we’re setting ourselves up for a potentially very big fall.”


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