Senators mull bill to require private sector reporting of cyberattacks

Stuxnet worm that damaged networks in Iran prompts review of U.S. industry vulnerability.

Senators are contemplating legislation to mandate that the private sector report cyberattacks in the wake of Stuxnet, a recently detected computer worm with potential to bring down industrial operations ranging from water treatment to manufacturing.

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., asked representatives from the Homeland Security Department, the computer security community and industry whether DHS needs enhanced powers to respond to threats to private networks. Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, have sponsored the 2010 Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (S. 3480), which focuses on public-private partnerships and information sharing because industry owns upwards of 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure, Collins noted.

The committee is negotiating with other Senate panels, such as the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, to pass comprehensive cyber legislation.

What separates Stuxnet, a malicious program identified in June, from malware aimed at stealing money or sensitive information is it targets a specific industrial control system, such as a gas pipeline. About 60 percent of the computers that Stuxnet infiltrated are in Iran, according to Dean Turner, director of the security firm Symantec's Global Intelligence Network. Specialists have located 1,600 infections in the United States.

"The ability of these threats to have a global reach is enormous," Turner testified. He speculated that the ultimate goal of Stuxnet is to sabotage commercial facilities by reprogramming devices that operate industrial plants so the equipment attacks itself.

The equipment vulnerable to such attacks in the United States includes agricultural systems and electric grids, but the manufacturing sector is the largest user of the networks, according to DHS.

Homeland Security officials who analyze and coordinate responses to incidents and threats affecting industrial control systems step in only when asked to by the private sector, said Seán McGurk, acting director of the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. "We have no authorities to direct that activity."

He said DHS is not appealing for more powers at this time, but would not oppose accepting greater responsibilities.

Michael Assante, president and chief executive officer of the National Board of Information Security Examiners, said it is critical to grant the government more authority over commercial markets, such as the electric power industry. "Organizations can't suffer in silence. It should be a required thing to report."

But Mark W. Gandy, global manager for information technology security and information asset management at Dow Corning, who spoke on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, said reporting requirements are not necessary. "The industry is already working very productively voluntarily," he said.