Leahy plans hearing to look at cybersecurity cooperation

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy will soon hold a hearing to examine how federal agencies are working together to prepare for and combat high-tech attacks, a senior committee aide said Wednesday. Leahy's chief privacy counsel, Lydia Griggsby, said the panel will ask witnesses about ways cybersecurity programs can be improved at the Justice and Homeland Security departments.

That came as a key Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs panel announced a similar hearing for today that will focus on how agencies can better use taxpayer dollars to protect mission-critical networks. Witnesses will include former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.; President Obama's Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, and officials from the GAO and State Department.

They will testify that the current method of overseeing cybersecurity is ineffective and a waste of resources, according to a press release from Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del. The hearing will highlight how provisions of a bill Carper sponsored can improve cybersecurity by requiring agencies to focus on continuous, technical monitoring.

The GAO released a report Wednesday that found sector-specific agencies have made limited progress updating IT protection plans and have not developed effective implementation actions or provided progress reports. The study was requested by House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson who urged Congress to work with the White House and agencies to "address this issue with the urgency that it requires."

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman is expected to lay out his vision for cyber legislation Friday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Ranking member Susan Collins said last month she was preparing a bill that would give DHS -- and not what she called a "White House czar" -- primary authority to protect federal civilian and private computer networks from attacks.

On a related front, Leahy plans to ask the Justice Department for an update on a year-old statute that ensured criminals who impersonate legitimate entrepreneurs to steal sensitive personal data could be prosecuted under federal ID theft laws. He wants to hold a hearing in 2010, Griggsby said.

Leahy introduced the measure in 2007 and it quickly won Senate passage. It languished in the House for months until it was attached to an unrelated bill and former President Bush signed it into law in September 2008.

The law allows federal prosecution of those who steal personal data from a computer even when the victim's computer is located in the same state as the thief's computer. Under the previous regime, federal courts only had jurisdiction if a hacker was across state lines. The measure made it a felony to use secret, malicious software to damage 10 or more computers, regardless of the aggregate amount of damage caused.