Cyber Crime

03/05/2015 03:09 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2015

Crime Actually Does Pay - If It's Cyber Crime

By Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr. (USA-Ret)

In the old days, respectable criminals used guns to rob us of our money. Such is no longer the case in the digital age when cyber thieves go about hijacking our personal information -- which they use to loot our bank accounts -- while we go about our daily business thinking everything is just fine. By the time we realize we've been robbed, it's too late and we never get a look at the thieves who may be thousands of miles away in another country.

Hardly a week goes by without yet another report of cyber criminals hacking into large corporate and public sector data bases hijacking personal information on millions of people -- Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, etc. -- that are then sold to criminal organizations that are operating throughout the world with virtual impunity.

And they are getting away with it. The guys with the guns in the old days usually got caught eventually and sent off to the lockup. The cyber thieves of today are living it up on our money, contemptuous of the law. According to a lawyer friend of mine named Gus Bequai, who has invested a good bit of time in this subject, the chances of being prosecuted for hacking in this country are about one in 10,000, and the likelihood of going to prison even less.

Part of the problem is our diffuse array of more than 40,000 law enforcement agencies that are largely ill-equipped to deal with cybercrime and often reluctant to share information on investigations. Existing laws and legal procedures were adopted years before cybercrime appeared on the scene and make prosecution difficult. Many victims of cybercrime, especially large businesses, are reluctant to acknowledge cyber theft because it makes them look bad and discourages customers. All too often they are content to sweep the problem under the rug.

Our government is aware of the threat but given the legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill, little has been done. During President Obama's first term, his team developed a broad legislative plan for cybersecurity that went nowhere. Later Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), now retired, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) promoted another bill that went nowhere.

Since then, the Obama Administration has issued orders and directives to guide the federal government's cybersecurity strategy which emphasizes collaboration with the private sector, industry-driven standards and better organization of government agencies to respond to the cyber threat. But without legislation to promote information sharing between the government and private sector, it is almost impossible to foster cooperation.

This year legislators in both the Senate and House are revisiting the issue with the primary focus on information sharing. This matter is too important to get caught up in partisan warfare. Presumably, both Republicans and Democrats are opposed to crime. Congress needs to break out of the gridlock and act to discourage cybercrime.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.