Senate Dem: Law enforcement needs help to fight botnets

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseCitizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (D-R.I.) wants to give law enforcement more tools to punish overseas hackers.

The lawmaker jumped on the Justice Department’s Tuesday indictment of Andrey Ghinkul, a Moldovan man accused of orchestrating one of the world’s worst computer infections, as an example of the type of charges he wants to see more of.

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Whitehouse is backing an amendment to an upcoming cybersecurity bill that would raise penalties for people like Ghinkul, who allegedly acted as part of a conspiracy that spread a botnet known as Bugat.

A botnet is an army of computers that have been remotely co-opted by hackers to launch a barrage of cyberattacks, often unknown to the computer’s user.

“Advanced botnets like Bugat, which was designed to steal online banking credentials and to evade antivirus software, are a significant threat to the more than 100 million Americans who bank online,” Whitehouse said in a statement.

“This operation, which featured substantial assistance from police in the United Kingdom, Germany and Moldova, demonstrates the borderless nature of cybercrime and the importance of international cooperation in finding and arresting those responsible for these offenses,” he added.

Whitehouse, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, wants to use an amendment to clarify the legal wording surrounding botnets, in the hopes it would empower investigators.

Currently, even the term “cyber crime” has no legal definition.

According to a Congressional Research Service report, cyber crime “has been an umbrella term, encompassing a range of crimes and malicious activities that may differ depending upon who is asked.”

Whitehouse’s offering, which presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRestlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Senator-jurors who may not be impartial? Remove them for cause Broad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa MORE (R-S.C.) co-sponsors, would also let prosecutors seek up to 20 years of prison time for individuals who harm a computer connected to “critical infrastructure.”

His proposal is one of 22 possible edits to the upcoming Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) that will be offered when the bill comes to the floor, possibly as early as next week.

CISA would expand the exchange of cyber threat data between companies and the government. Industry groups and a large bipartisan coalition back the bill, but privacy concerns have caused it to stall for several months.

Whitehouse had been hoping to move his proposal an an independent bill, but hasn't been able to make that happen yet.