Cyber bills find support

A Senate panel April 24 endorsed two pieces of security legislation: one bill that would boost cybersecurity research and development, and another that would create a volunteer corps of computer experts who would respond swiftly in the event of a computer emergency, such as a cyberattack.

The panel praised the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which would earmark $878 million to correct chronic underfunding in the field of computer security research. The bill passed the House in February.

Witnesses also endorsed the Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to create a National Emergency Technology Guard, or NET Guard, composed of experts and companies who agree to respond immediately with technological know-how and equipment to counter an attack.

"The nation's best scientific minds, technology experts and technology companies will be invited to participate," Wyden said at the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee hearing.

While endorsing the idea, Ronil Hira of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. cautioned that calling in a squad of willing scientists might not always be the right response to computer-related emergencies.

"It is important to recognize that communication and other technological systems can be extremely complicated," he said. Such detailed knowledge "may only be available in the company and its vendors that installed the system originally." Intervention by outsiders — however brilliant — might do more harm than good, he said.

Hira had no similar reservations about the Cyber Security Research and Development Act. He praised the legislation for promising financial support for research by industry as well as by universities and government entities.

More research funding is essential for improving cybersecurity, agreed Lance Hoffman, a computer science professor at George Washington University. Students and faculty have generally not pursued cybersecurity research because funding has been scarce, he said.

The aim is to fund research as "a long-term strategy to counter cyberterrorism," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee and primary author of the bill.

Wyden said he expects a committee vote on the two bills by mid-May.

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