Cyber plan gives DHS the keys

The Homeland Security Department could take over the cybersecurity of all federal civilian agencies under proposed legislation that the White House sent to Congress May 12. However, DHS would have only limited authority to oversee the security of privately owned critical infrastructure.

The proposal, which administration officials characterized as a starting point for discussions with Congress and industry, establishes DHS as the lead cybersecurity agency with “primary responsibility within the executive branch for information security,” including the power to mandate policies and activities for government systems, reports William Jackson at

The legislation would also create a regulatory framework for nongovernment critical infrastructure that requires owners and operators to develop security plans, and it would establish a national requirement for notifying people of data breaches.

The relationship between government and industry has been one of the thornier challenges for securing critical infrastructure, and the proposal attempts to find the right balance.

“Perhaps one of the more interesting things in the proposal is that the White House wants for local government and industry to voluntarily ask for help when they have security issues,” writes Eyder Peralta at NPR. “They also want local governments and industry to share 'new types of computer viruses or other cyber threats or incidents' with the federal government. The proposal makes it clear that doing so is legal and provides them immunity if they do so.”

Peralta also noted the bill's application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to cyber crime, which has previously not been considered subject to RICO even though organized crime rings have been engaged in cyber crime for some time.

Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press reports on tension between business groups, who generally want cybersecurity laws to be light on mandates, and security advocates, who say the White House proposal is toothless.

“The administration's proposal shows no sense of urgency,” said Stewart Baker, a former senior DHS official, as quoted by AP. "It tells even critical industries on which our lives and society depend that they will have years before anyone from government begins to evaluate their security measures."

A senior DHS official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that the goal was to encourage good practices from industry. “We worked long and hard to come up with a framework that would enable industry to figure out the best way to protect itself,” the official said.

Kristin Lord, vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security, told the Post that the administration is trying to persuade “critical infrastructure providers to do the right thing by holding out the implied threat of regulation.”

Administration officials said the proposed regulatory framework acknowledges that government does not have all of the answers and elevates public/private cooperation above regulation, Jackson reports. The proposal will likely be reconciled with similar cybersecurity legislation that has been introduced in the House and Senate.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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