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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.

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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.

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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.