House bill would give DHS greater powers to defend against hackers

House bill would give DHS greater powers to defend against hackers
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A new House bill would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more legal authority to defend government networks from hackers.  

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Thursday introduced the Cyber Defense of Federal Networks Act. The bill would give the DHS power to investigate any agency’s networks and boot out digital intruders.


Currently, the DHS must wait for permission before monitoring or searching through another agency’s networks. But in the wake of the damaging hacks at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), lawmakers are scurrying to give the DHS more proactive authority to defend government websites and computer systems.

“In light of the massive OPM hacks, it’s clear that our nation’s federal digital infrastructure isn’t capable of effectively detecting and defending against these cyber threats,” McCaul said. “The Department of Homeland Security’s hands are tied in responding to ever-growing cyber threats.”

A bipartisan group in the Senate agrees with McCaul.

Last week, a coalition of three Democrats and three Republicans introduced a measure that almost mirrors McCaul’s offering.

Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (R-Maine) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security to take back seat at Mueller hearing Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (D-Va.) served as the two leads on the bill, called the FISA Reform Act, as it updates the 13-year-old Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

Republican Sens. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE (Ind.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (N.H.), and Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Mo.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (Md.) are the other co-sponsors.

In an effort to move swiftly, the FISMA Reform Act was combined with a related DHS cyber bill during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs markup on Wednesday. The committee approved the united bill.

The language may be offered as an amendment if a major cybersecurity bill, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), hits the floor next week. The CISA measure would increase the sharing of cyber-threat data between the public and private sectors.

“I would like to commend my colleagues in the Senate for quickly addressing federal network security,” McCaul said. “I encourage my peers in the House to take action so more Americans won’t have their personal information compromised and sensitive government information stolen.”

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) also introduced this week a bill to empower the cyber capabilities of DHS. Hurd's measure would facilitate the full government rollout of a DHS program designed to detect and thwart known digital threats.

A similar provision is part of the combined bill that the Senate Homeland Security panel approved this week.