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Kansas City-area leaders, experts focus on future cybersecurity funding

Recent pipeline hack puts focus on critical need
Cybersecurity Expert
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 09:03:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package has a lot of parts, but one that’s drawn the attention of Kansas City-area leaders and experts is funding for cybersecurity.

When Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas returned from his most recent trip to Washington, he did so with a key takeaway.

"Cybersecurity is core infrastructure," he said. "We've had cybersecurity attacks, famously we saw the pipeline in the southeast of the United States, that led to an increase in gas prices around the country."

The Colonial Pipeline attack came at an enormous cost for the company that operates it – $4.4 million in ransom. It cost drivers too – 45% of the East Coast fuel supply came from that pipeline, and it was shut off for six days.

William Brunkhardt, a cybersecurity expert with Security Mitigation Group said it’s not just fuel infrastructure that could become the victim of a hack.

"Behind every pipeline, electric, transmission, utility, water treatment facilities. Behind the scenes, there is technology that makes that work," Brunkhardt said. "And anytime you have the technology involved, you run a risk of it being vulnerable and someone exploiting that system."

Back in Kansas City, it has Lucas concerned.

"You can paralyze an entire city," Lucas said. "I think the real threat is, as we get deeper into the 21st century, isn't actually just what we think of as the traditional terrorist attack. It's the type of cyber-attack that can really lead a city into a terrible place if they strike out electricity systems, if they strike out our ability to respond to emergencies."

But Brunkhardt said the risks aren’t exclusively system problems.

"Fifty percent of the cybersecurity threat is hardware, software, interconnected networks," he said. "The other 50% is the human element."

That's why cybersecurity touches everyone – because of all of those devices and applications. Checking the “agree to terms” box isn’t enough. Experts said the key is being educated about what apps can do and what users shouldn’t let them do.

"You can do some research, find the right balance," Brunkhardt said. "And a lot of these applications have the ability for us to go in and tighten the security controls on them."

Tightening the locks can happen at home, or in the halls of government.

"There are people paying the earnings tax online. There are people that were paying for permit fees. There are people that are looking to register pets, all types of things, and need to make sure that every one of those entry points has some level of security," Lucas said.

It’s a constant battle, according to Brunkhardt, to stay ahead of the threat.

"Cybersecurity truly is a cat and mouse game," he said. "And, you know at this hour, we may be ahead of the curve and an hour later today, we may be way behind the curve.

"We're fighting a war. And if, if we're not on top of it, if we don't do what we have to do and invest the dollars needed to protect ourselves, we're going to suffer consequences like we've never suffered before."

Lucas said he met with local representatives and all four Missouri and Kansas senators on that trip to Washington, and is not only hopeful that cybersecurity is a priority in an infrastructure bill, but that it has bipartisan support.