According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft complaints in California jumped from 101,614 in 2019 to 147,386 in 2020, a nearly 50% increase. Specific complaints about government documents and benefits fraud soared during that time, from 3,407 to 14,875.
And although the problem flared during the coronavirus pandemic, it's been mounting for decades.
"It’s hard to make it tangible until it’s too late," said Matt Masterson, who teaches at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, following a stint as a senior adviser at the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). "All your systems are locked up, and those same people that have been asking for support either end up getting fired or being moved along because 'How could you let this happen?' "
High-profile, massively disruptive cyberattacks in the U.S. — like the recent SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline hacks — have effectively underscored the vulnerability of the nation's critical infrastructure. Acknowledging this, President Biden just signed a broad executive order that aims to strengthen cybersecurity for federal networks and outline new security standards for commercial software used by both business and the public.
But in their recent op-ed in The Hill, Masterson and former CISA Director Chris Krebs also emphasize the need for federal funding to help state and local agencies around the country get up to speed. The U.S., they argue, needs a new approach to the “new normal of cyber enabled malicious activity.”
"Whether it’s at the grid level, whether it’s water-treatment plants, whether it’s county sheriff’s offices, right? That’s a matter of public safety," Masterson said. "Investment in this, like any infrastructure, has to be ongoing, but man, now’s the time to have this conversation."
Sure enough, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers this week reintroduced a bill to provide state and local governments with $500 million annually to defend against cyberattacks. (It was passed by the House last year, but did not get a vote in the U.S. Senate.)