DoD Bill Probes Civilian Net's Threat to Military Installations

The House Republican charged with coordinating cyber legislation across the chamber's committees has proposed a measure that would examine the threat to military installations posed by the Defense Department's inability to monitor utility networks.

At present, lawmakers, executive branch agencies and civil rights advocates are at loggerheads about whether the Pentagon should have the power to protect private networks. Congress is waiting for the White House to offer some direction before acting on comprehensive cybersecurity legislation but the Obama administration has yet to release a year-long interagency review.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in his capacity as chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, is backing language scheduled for a vote on Wednesday that would order a study "on the threat to the readiness of military installations from possible cyber attacks on civilian critical infrastructure."

The committee "is concerned that the department remains indirectly vulnerable to cyber attack on critical pieces of civilian infrastructure not under the department's protection," states the panel's portion of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1540. Due to the location and structure of military installations, they often rely on their surrounding communities' power grids, public utilities and telecommunications services -- many of which "are poorly protected or completely unprotected from potential cyber attacks."

The legislation also would establish a cyber fellowship similar to a exchange student program for international troops. Thornberry said the initiative supports the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, an institution based in Estonia that is working to foster global cybersecurity collaboration.

The U.S. program would allow a foreign military member to temporarily join a Defense Department organization for education and training in information security.

We'll have more on U.S.-Estonia cyber relations in a separate story later today.