House Panel Passes Bill Requiring Federal Cyber Guidance for Small Businesses

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas NASA

The committee's Democratic leader criticized the bill for giving the government’s cyber standards agency more responsibility without more funding.

The House Science Committee easily passed legislation Tuesday directing the government’s cybersecurity standards agency to provide more guidance and other resources to small businesses.

The NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Act directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide voluntary resources to companies that vary with the size of the business and are technology neutral.

The resources should also help small companies promote a strong cybersecurity culture and to manage relationships with vendors and customers with an eye toward securing information, according to the bill.

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Small businesses are frequently targeted with a variety of digital attacks ranging from breaches aimed at stealing customer credit card information to ransomware attacks in which a hacker locks a business's data until the company pays to have access to the information restored.

“Hackers attempt to take advantage of small business’s limited capabilities and cyber inexperience as compared to their larger counterparts,” Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said.

The bill passed on a voice vote with no dissension. An amendment by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., requiring NIST to also provide useful case studies for how small businesses can improve their cybersecurity, was also approved.

A similar Senate bill, the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act, passed that chamber’s Commerce Committee in April.

The Science Committee’s ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, criticized the panel’s Republican majority for assigning additional responsibilities to NIST without additional funding, though she voted in favor of the bill. Johnson said she hopes additional funding will be added in a conference version if both the House and Senate bills pass.

NIST receives a $12 million budget cut from 2016 levels in a compromise spending bill Congress must approve this week to avoid a government shutdown. Total agency funding is $952 million in the bill.

“I am pleased that we can agree on a bipartisan basis that NIST is an important agency that does excellent work across many areas with a relatively small budget,” Johnson said. “I just wish we could also agree that money does not grow on the trees at the NIST campus.”