A season for cyber

A big cybersecurity bill awaits the Senate in September, and several other information-security measures are in the pipeline.

Shutterstock image (by holbox): Capitol building on a sunlit day.

The Senate plans to debate a major cybersecurity bill when it returns from its August recess, after failing to move the legislation before leaving town.

And a host of other cyber legislation is at varying stages of the legislative process, which could keep the topic on the agenda in both chambers for much of the rest of the year.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, approved 14-1 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is not a shoo-in to pass, although there appears to be widespread support for its basic goals. Senate leaders have agreed to allow 21 amendments to come to the floor, 11 from Democrats and 10 from Republicans. It isn't clear yet which of the more than 90 amendments offered by Senators will get a hearing.

CISA would provide a basic legal framework for companies to share information on cybersecurity threats with each other and with government. Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would stand up an automated system to share alerts, threats, and defensive measures in real time. The bill also would give the Office of the Director National Intelligence a role in clearing classified threat indicators for sharing.

The White House has urged the bill's passage, more as a way to start the conference process than to indicate support for CISA as it stands. If passed, CISA would have to be merged with two House-passed measures that loosely track with the Senate legislation.

The National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement (NCPA) Act would make the Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center at DHS the hub of information sharing, but doesn't have the "real time" alert function contained in the language of the Senate bill. The Senate language is a potential sticking point for privacy advocates, who argue that the real-time requirement will mean rushing threat information that includes irrelevant personally identifiable information into the system.

The Protecting Cyber Networks Act handles the intelligence side of cyber. It would authorize within the ODNI the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, which was established by the administration. The CTIIC is charged with integrating and analyzing cyber threat information acquired by intelligence agencies, and sharing information with state and local governments. The bill also would give private companies the right to conduct defensive cyber operations on their networks, while restricting measures that are destructive to outside systems.

Both measures passed overwhelmingly in the House.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the architect of NCPA and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said his chamber has hit the mark where privacy and civil liberties are concerned.

"I encourage our colleagues in the Senate to take action and look forward to working together in conference to preserve and strengthen the current roles and responsibilities of civilian and intelligence agencies and reinforce efforts to ensure robust privacy protections," McCaul said in a statement released as the Senate was looking to pass CISA before leaving town for its August recess.

Protecting Dot-Gov

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a freshman lawmaker with private-sector cybersecurity experience and a background in intelligence, prefers the House approach, and also wants to do more to protect government networks.

"DHS should be the entity that’s responsible for protecting the .gov domain and the center point for the interaction with private industry," he told Vice News at the Def Con hacking conference. As chairman of the IT Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hurd has had a front row seat in responding to the recent hacks of government personnel data.

To respond, Hurd introduced the Einstein Act in late July. That bill would require DHS to offer protection capabilities for federal networks. It would formally authorize the Einstein network protection system currently deployed by DHS across federal agencies. The measure has been approved in committee and is awaiting action by the full House.

The Senate has its own Einstein bill. The Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act was reported out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 29. It would authorize DHS to run intrusion detection on any network in the .gov domain, and would provide new authorities to defend networks.


By some measures, the real action on cybersecurity will take place in the appropriations process.

The White House just released a fact sheet summarizing some of their key budget requests for cyber spending. They're looking for $9.5 billion at the Department of Defense for cyber operations, cyber forces, and network protection; $1.4 billion at DHS, including $480 million to expand Einstein coverage; $514 million for cyber investigations at the Department of Justice; $242 million for upgrades at the IRS; $262 million for the Department of Health and Human Services; $180 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs; and $187 million for the Department of Commerce.

Overall, the administration wants $14 billion across government for cybersecurity -- an 11 percent increase. However, the Republican-controlled Congress and the administration are unlikely to reach agreement on an appropriations package. Indeed, because of the cramped fall schedule, the possibility of a shutdown or at least a series of short-term continuing resolutions is increasingly likely.

CISA Amendments

There is momentum to pass a cyber bill in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management hacks.

As a result, CISA looks to senators like a good vehicle for tech legislation that has been hanging fire in Congress. While leaders have promised that amendments must relate to cybersecurity (ruling out Sen. Rand Paul's audit-the-fed and guns-on-military bases proposals), that still covers a lot of ground.

Possible amendments include:

*An update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, designed to eliminate the differentiated legal status of emails stored on a computer, and those stored remotely in a cloud or online email server.

*An additional $37 million for OPM to beef up information security.

*Creating a new category of federal employment for cybersecurity professionals.

*A ban on federal mandates that device and software makers alter their encryption service or other security functions to give law enforcement access to communications.

*Authorization of search warrants on data stored by U.S. persons on remote servers outside the United States.

*Cybersecurity standards for motor vehicles with networked software systems

Additionally, there are a number of amendments to alter the core working of CISA itself, many with an eye to making it more palatable to civil libertarians and more in harmony with the House bills.

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