Feds Plan to Take Over Cybersecurity, Enforce Regulations on Private Industry


Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
April 1, 2009

Key lawmakers are pushing to dramatically escalate U.S. defenses against cyberattacks, crafting proposals that would empower the government to set and enforce security standards for private industry for the first time.

[efoods]The proposals, in Senate legislation that could be introduced as early as today, would broaden the focus of the government’s cybersecurity efforts to include not only military networks but also private systems that control essentials such as electricity and water distribution. At the same time, the bill would add regulatory teeth to ensure industry compliance with the rules, congressional officials familiar with the plan said yesterday.

Addressing what intelligence officials describe as a gaping vulnerability, the legislation also calls for the appointment of a White House cybersecurity “czar” with unprecedented authority to shut down computer networks, including private ones, if a cyberattack is underway, the officials said.

How industry groups will respond is unclear. Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, which represents private companies and civil liberties advocates, said that mandatory standards have long been the “third rail of cybersecurity policy.” Dempsey said regulation could also stifle creativity by forcing companies to adopt a uniform approach.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), was drafted with White House input. Although the White House indicated it supported some key concepts of the bill, there has been no official endorsement.

Many of the proposals were based on recommendations of a landmark study last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Currently, government responsibility for cybersecurity is split: The Pentagon and the National Security Agency safeguard military networks, while the Department of Homeland Security provides assistance to private networks. Previous cybersecurity initiatives have largely concentrated on reducing the vulnerability of government and military computers to hackers.

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