recommended reading

House cybersecurity activist bemoans apathy about countering threats

This week's hacker attacks on credit card and other consumer websites in the wake of the WikiLeaks controversy provide a perfect example of America's vulnerability to attacks against online networks by criminals, spies and enemy states, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, co-founder of the House Cybersecurity Caucus, said Thursday.

McCaul said he sees a frustrating "lack of interest" in countering the threat among many in Congress, whose "eyes glaze over at these high-tech issues they don't understand." A similar disregard for terrorism threats was apparent in the days leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, he added.

Speaking at a Cybersecurity Insider Series event that Government Executive, the SANS Institute and Northrop Grumman sponsored, McCaul described the career events that led him in September 2008 to join with Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., to start the bipartisan House Cybersecurity Caucusto foment dialogue among members on a subject under the jurisdiction of multiple committees.

McCaul's work on a 2008 commission the Center for Strategic and International Studies runs revealed that every federal agency has been hit by cyberattacks in which unauthorized parties have downloaded the equivalent of all the data in the Library of Congress.

Increasingly, the U.S. military is recognizing that cyber threats during the next decade must be the top priority "from a business and national security standpoint," he said. "Many terrorist organizations don't have the capability, but they could contract with, say, the Russian mafia. If you take down the Northwest's electrical grid or a financial system, you do more economic damage than you do by flying a plane into a building."

The government's approach to countering cyber threats suffers from a lack of coordination among agencies to meet a challenge made difficult by the fact that the private sector controls much of the Internet, McCaul said.

He has offered legislation to elevate the status of the White House cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to the president, a position held first by Melissa Hathaway and now occupied by Howard Schmidt. Without authority over agencies' cybersecurity budgets, McCaul said, the so-called czar will be as ineffective as, some critics believe, the position of director of national intelligence has been in coordinating data sharing and consensus among the 16 federal intelligence agencies.

McCaul proposed banning the manufacture of the malware that bad actors often purchase and use in cyberattacks, and he would offer industry tax credits and other incentives -- rather than more regulation from the Homeland Security Department -- to produce operating systems and software that are safer from outside penetration.

He predicted the current Senate cybersecurity bill Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., sponsored will not pass, in part because of privacy advocates' objections to its provision to give the president a "kill switch," which would allow him, in the case of a massive cyberattack on the United States, to shut down the Internet.

Threatwatch Alert

Credential-stealing malware / User accounts compromised / Software vulnerability

Android Malware Infects More than 1M Phones, Adds 13,000 Devices a Day

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.