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Expect 75 Recommendations to Improve Security, Plus Proposed Laws, from Congress' Cyber Commission

Rep. Jim Langevin says he and his fellow commissioners will propose streamlining Congressional oversight, incident reporting by industry, and more.

Come March 11 the Congressionally chartered Cyberspace Solarium Commission will issue an estimated 75 recommendations—including to streamline Congressional oversight and for industry to provide incident reporting—most of which will be accompanied by legislative language, according to the commission’s top staffer.

The 14-member commission includes the four lawmakers—from the House and Senate— private-sector leaders, executive-branch agency heads and cybersecurity thinkers working on a strategy to blunt the harm of cyberattacks. They are required by the latest National Defense Authorization Act to issue their recommendations by April. 

“A little less than 50 of the 75 recommendations have congressional action required,” said Mark Montgomery, executive director of the commission. “We’ve written legislative proposals, whether it’s a line in, line out amendment to a bill or a straight bill, so that the four congressional leaders can take them into their home [committees] and begin to work that legislation right into law.”

Montgomery spoke along with Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., a commission member and chairman of a House Armed Services Committee panel on emerging technology, at an event hosted by BSA | The Software Alliance today.

“They wouldn’t be in the report itself as it would quadruple the length of it,” Montgomery said of the legislative provisions, “but they will be on the website where you can link into them on the day we release. And we’re also handing them to hill members so they can start to work on them.”

But because of the range of committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity, it’s difficult to reach everyone involved, he said.

That’s an issue the report will focus heavily on, Langevin said, noting he’s been having conversations about reforming Congressional oversight for cybersecurity with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., so it’s something that’s “on her radar.” 

“Depending on how you count it, there are around 80 different committees and subcommittees that have some kind of jurisdiction over cybersecurity, way too many,” Langevin said, highlighting Energy and Commerce, Homeland Security, Financial Services, and Small Business as just a few on the House side alone. “We need to streamline this process somehow.” 

Lawmakers have been traditionally protective of their turf, so Langevin said he was surprised he didn’t turn out to be a lone voice in the wilderness in advocating reform. Instead, he said, there was a lot of agreement among the commission on the issue.

Another bucket of recommendations Langevin highlighted was for a mechanism to improve the availability of metrics for cybersecurity. 

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The commission will recommend taking information sharing beyond threat indicators to incident reporting. The group apparently agrees it’s important to have more data on the kinds of attacks entities experience, the kind of data being stolen, and what kinds of vulnerabilities were exploited, in order to better inform policies, particularly those used by private insurance companies and certification bodies.

So far, such reporting has been stymied by a culture where hacks are associated with shame and secrecy, rather than forensics, Langevin said.

Pressed for details on why companies would be inclined to share incident data, Montgomery said one key will be to ensure the data is anonymized. 

But he said there will be a significant challenge in setting up a structure that is shared between the public and private sector for doing this. 

“We don’t want to build a government database,” he said. “It will be about figuring out how to create a shared database, which won’t be easy. We’re not traditionally good at co-owning things in government.”