Other cybersecurity legislation in the U.S.


In response to my last post, several people have pointed out to me some other initiatives before Congress. Here are some brief comments on a few of them, based on what is available via the Thomas service. I am not going to provide a section-by-section analysis of any of these.

S.921, the US Information and Communications Enforcement Act of 2009

Introduced by Senator Carper and cosponsored by Senator Burris, this act would modify Title 44 (chapter 35) of the US Code to establish the National Office for Cyberspace within the Executive Office of the President (EOP). The intent is that this office would address "...assured, reliable, secure, and survivable global information and communications infrastructure and related capabilities."

There are several other provisions in the act that make agency heads responsible for security of their systems, requires annual security reviews, requires cooperation with the US-CERT, requires establishment of automated reporting, and that charges the Department of Commerce with setting guidelines and standards but allows agencies to employ more stringent standards.

The director of the office created by this bill does not have a defined reporting chain. However, the office is given explicit responsibility for coordinating policy, consulting with agencies, ad working with OMB. Note that the interaction with OMB is coordination of OMB's actions and is not a role with any direct control.

The authority of this new office would not extend to Defense or any of the DNI's agencies.

There is a very short timeline to produce some initial reports (180 days) on the effects of cost savings by using better security. It might take that long simply to begin to define what to measure!

Every Federal agency would have to appoint a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) responsible for all the things that a CISO normally does in a large organization, including establishing monitoring and response documentation, training, purchasing, and so on. This would be a massive undertaking for some agencies, even if appropriate budget was allocated (something this bill does not do).

The bill require every agency to have an independent (external) evaluation every year! The cost and effort of such an option would be huge, and it is not clear that it would provide a return equal to cost.

Overall, there are some worthwhile ideas in here, but if passed as is, this would cripple many smaller agencies without sufficient budget, and tie up the rest in lots of red tape.   

S. 1438 Fostering a Global Response to Cyber Attacks Act

Introduced by Senator Gillibrand, this bill would state a "sense of the Senate" and require the Secretary of State to report on efforts to work with other countries on cyber security and response. Section 21 of S.778 provides better coverage of the topic.

S. 946 Critical Electric Infrastructure Protection Act

Introduced by Senator Lieberman with no cosponsors, this bill directs the Secretary of DHS (working with other agencies) to direct a study and report if federally-owned elements of the power grid have been compromised in any way. It further tasks the Federal Electric Reguatory Commission (FERC) to establish interim measures to protect those resources.

It makes the Secretary of Homeland Security responsible for on-going assessments and reporting of critical infrastructure, including the electric infrastructure. Hmmm, no mention of the Secretary of Energy here. This will probably provoke a turf battle if it gets considered at length.

H.R. 2195 by Representative Bennie Thompson and 16 cosponsors is the same bill on the House side.

H.R. 2165 by Rep. John Barrow is related somewhat, in that it designates FERC as responsible for securing the power system. It goes further, however, by giving FERC some emergency regulatory powers under Presidential directive. It also creates yet another class of restricted but unclassified information. Both of those last two points make this a troubling proposal.

H.R. 266 Cybersecurity Education and Enhancement Act of 2009

Introduced by Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, this act has two major components:

  1. It would task NSF with setting up programs, funded by & coordinated with DHS, for professional education and associated degrees in cyber security. Funding would also be given for equipment for such programs.
  2. It would establish a DHS-run Fellows program to bring state, local, tribal and private sectors officials into the DHS National Cybersecurity Division to become more familiar with the capabilities and missions there.

This would address some real needs in a reasonable way.


Clearly, there is growing interest in cyber within the government, and recognition of some of the weaknesses in procurement, training, response, standards, and information dissemination. However, not all of the bills being proposed really address the underlying problems, and some may cause new problems.   

The legislative process does not lend itself to solutions. The House and Senate deal with issues via an established committee structure, and those committee boundaries don't match cyber, which is a cross-cutting problem. Thus, it is difficult to get a bill started that mandates changes across several Federal agencies and cabinet positions, because the bill would then need to go through a bunch of committees -- and in too many cases there are members of those committees who will feel the need to rewrite the bill. This especially comes into play thinking about the future: if there will be new programs and authorities, it is generally the rule that each committee would like to "own" those activities . Likewise, the members and staff don't like to see any authority taken away from their committees.

This makes it problematic for cyber. It will require thoughtful support across a number of areas. It will require the leadership of both houses of Congress to exert some leadership to ensure that good legislation gets through, without too much unnecessary tweaking along the way.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

(Oh, and my post about the "cyber cheerleader" caused a reader to remind of Spaf's First Law, articulated over two decades ago:

If you have responsibility for security but have no authority to set rules or punish violators, your own role in the organization is to take the blame when something big goes wrong.

Thus, people who are being approached for the position may not be eager to take it if they understand this. It has been demonstrated for this sort of position before.


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