WASHINGTON –Testifying for the first time Monday on the White House cybersecurity proposal, four Administration officials agreed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was the best agency to oversee the defense of government and private sector cyber networks.
Appearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), the four witnesses – representing the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Commerce, and Justice – pledged their cooperation to find consensus on legislation to protect against catastrophic cyber attack on the nation’s critical infrastructure.
“If we don’t do something soon, the Internet is going to become a digital Dodge City,” Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said. “Cyberspace is just too important to modern life to allow that to happen… It’s time to say: ‘There’s a new sheriff in town and we’re going to have some law and order around here.’ And we can do that without compromising liberty and privacy. This is not a partisan debate. It is a national security and economic growth debate.”
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., said: “I am pleased that the Administration has now fully engaged on the imperative issue of cyber security. Experts tell me that the cyber arena is where the biggest gap exists between the threat level and our preparedness. Unfortunately, the government’s overall approach to cyber security has been disjointed and uncoordinated. The threat is too great to allow this to continue. The need for Congress to pass comprehensive cyber security legislation is more urgent than ever.”
Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said: “Today more Americans rely on the Internet to live their lives and conduct their business. This increasing access to, and dependence on, the Internet has created attractive targets for hackers and criminals looking to steal information or money or just cause mischief. At the same time, we have increased our reliance on sophisticated technology to keep the lights on, keep our water clean, run our factories, and even to fight wars and defend our country.
“Terrorists with the ability to compromise or destroy the technology we depend on every day could cause serious damage, potentially even on the scale of a ‘cyber 9/11.’ I, along with Senators Lieberman and Collins, have reintroduced comprehensive cyber security legislation that would better secure agency networks, while also beginning the process of working with the private sector to secure the critical systems they own. We will continue to work across the aisle and with the Administration, like we did after 9/11, to address the serious security challenges we face as a country. It is my hope, however, that we can act this time before the damage is done.”
Lieberman, Collins, and Carper are central players in Congress’ bipartisan effort to pass cybersecurity legislation. They jointly introduced comprehensive cybersecurity bills in the current and past Congresses to provide DHS the authority it needs to oversee efforts to protect civilian government networks and to work with the private sector to develop security plans based on risk.
The White House produced its own proposal last week, which also gives DHS the chief role in protecting .gov networks and assets and in working with the private sector to protect the .com domain. The White House proposal provides momentum to the bipartisan working group assembled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other relevant Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members to pass legislation this year.
Besides securing critical infrastructure, both the Lieberman/Collins/Carper bill and the White House proposal would direct DHS to work on a voluntary basis with the private sector and state and local governments to share cyber security risk and best practice information. Both bills also contain robust privacy oversight to ensure that individual privacy and civil liberties are protected.
Testifying before the Committee were Philip R. Reitinger, Deputy Under Secretary, National Protection and Programs Directorate, at the Department of Homeland Security; Robert J. Butler, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber Policy; Office of the Under Secretary for Policy, Department of Defense; Ari Schwartz, Senior Internet Policy Advisor, Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Commerce; and Jason C. Chipman, Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice.