Senator looks to counter botnets

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wants Congress to take another look at his plan to shut down pesky botnets.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wants to crack down on botnets and strengthen the cyber defenses for critical infrastructure.  And both he and FBI Director James Comey agree that better government-industry cooperation will be critical to those efforts.

Both Comey and Whitehouse spoke at an April 26 cybersecurity event at Georgetown University.

"We simply must get better at working with the private sector," the FBI director said on April 26. "This is at the core of our being effective."  Comey acknowledged that the FBI's standoff with Apple over accessing encrypted iPhones had been fairly adversarial, but stressed that, "It would be bad if the conversation this started ended."

"There is a magnetic attraction to fight in Washington." Whitehouse said. "The government has done a poor job in communicating the scope and severity of cyber threat to the American public,"  he said, adding that the over-classification of information within the government prevents citizens from better understanding what the threats are.

Whitehouse, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee's Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee, is keen to do what he can in this space from Capitol Hill. Along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Whitehouse plans to re-introduce legislation to crack down on botnets and to punish anyone who tries to hack U.S. critical infrastructure.  A similar measure was put forward as  an amendment to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act last year, but was rejected. Whitehouse plans a hearing in May on the new bill, and is optimistic that could get a floor vote before Congress adjourns for the year.

With elections looming, Whitehouse hopes Senate GOP leaders will want to show "they can run a proper Senate and so they are looking around for things that are not controversial that they can pass and say they passed," he told FCW. "And I don’t think there's anything very controversial or politically charged about tearing down botnets or making sure that people who go after our critical infrastructure are properly punished. So, I'm very optimistic."

While the government is able to go after active botnets that are launching attacks, Whitehouse complained that their powers aren't as clear when it comes to dormant bots.

The Justice Department has "doubts about their authority to go out and take down botnets that are just lying there inactive awaiting mischievous use," Whitehouse told FCW. "We think in the spirit of better Internet hygiene, they should be out there every day filing injunctions and tearing these damn things down." Whitehouse said. "You shouldn't have to wait for the harm before they take the civil action."


About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a staff writer covering Congress, the State Department, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

Prior to joining FCW, Chowdhry covered foreign policy for CQ Roll Call. Her overseas work prior to that took her to Pakistan and Afghanistan. She has worked as a correspondent for Reuters based out of Islamabad. Chowdhry has also worked at the CBS affiliate in Washington as a multimedia journalist. She began her career as a freelance reporter for USA Today and covered stories from conflict zones. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Policy, and Voice of America, among others.

Chowdhry received her masters in broadcast journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.

Click here for previous articles by Chowdhry, or connect with her on Twitter: @aishach

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