House Wants Private Sector To Help Bolster U.S. Cyber Defense

An analyst works at the government’s secretive cyber defense lab, Sept. 29, 2011, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Homeland Security Department's Control System Security Program facilities are intended to protect the nation's power grid.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

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An analyst works at the government’s secretive cyber defense lab, Sept. 29, 2011, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Homeland Security Department's Control System Security Program facilities are intended to protect the nation's power grid.

House lawmakers think partnerships between the private sector and DHS will go a long way toward protecting America's vulnerable civil infrastructure. By Rebecca Carroll

Two bills to strengthen cybersecurity in the systems that underlie the nation’s energy, water and food supplies passed the House on Monday evening, along with a measure to improve the federal government’s cyber workforce.

A bill (H.R. 3696) introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, seeks to strengthen the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to protect 16 critical sectors — including defense, health, energy and food — by establishing partnerships with the private sector and enhancing programs already in place.  

The legislation would formalize the role of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, which was established in 2009 to help critical-infrastructure sectors share cyber-threat information in real time.

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday said a separate Senate bill to codify the center’s role would not result in significant costs.

Other legislation passed by the House on Monday included a bill (H.R. 2952) introduced by Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., to improve critical-infrastructure security technology and a bill (H.R. 3107) from Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y, to bolster DHS’ cyber workforce.

McCaul, chairman of the House homeland security committee, cited fears that the country is in “a pre-9/11 mindset” regarding cybersecurity.

“A successful cyberattack on our nation’s water systems, oil and gas pipelines, power grids and mass transit systems on the scale of the recent retail breaches could cause crippling economic damage and could even cost lives,” he said, referring to breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus, among others.

“The reality is the threat is outpacing our readiness to combat it,” he said. “This bipartisan bill establishes a true partnership between DHS and the private sector to ensure the distribution of real-time cyber threat information in order to secure our nation in cyberspace without burdensome mandates or regulations.”

It was unclear when the Senate would take up the measures.

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