Lawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks

Lawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks
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A federal strategy for defending the U.S. government against cyberattacks is one step closer to completion, with lawmakers saying they have a draft form that could be finalized as early as March.

The report has been in the works since 2018 after the National Defense Authorization Act created a commission, consisting of lawmakers and industry leaders, to draw up recommendations.

Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGOP lawmaker: New sanctions provide 'offramp' from rising US-Iran tensions GOP Congressman reacts to Trump's address Hillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 MORE (R-Wis.), co-chairman of the commission, told The Hill that the commission had recently put together a draft version.

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“Over the holiday we will have a few weeks to dig into the draft text, and there are a few issues we are working through, but we feel good,” Gallagher said on Dec. 19. “We had a meeting this week, an additional meeting, and it was a really robust debate, and so I think we’re getting there.”

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE last month, extended the initial deadline for the commission to produce the report to April 30.

Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 Lawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks Hillicon Valley: Spending deal includes 5M for election security | House passes bill to bar use of funds for Huawei | Top White House telecom advisor steps down MORE (D-R.I.), another member of the commission, told The Hill that the commission would likely publish the report before the new deadline.

“We will get our work done certainly before then. It could well be as early as March,” Langevin said on Dec. 19. “We are coming to a place where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I like the direction we are heading in right now. It’s going to be a very overarching document on how best to protect the country in cyberspace,” Langevin said, adding that the recommendations will be a “big priority” in 2020.

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Threats to the U.S. in cyberspace have grown significantly over the past decade. In the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment compiled by former Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsSchiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Rod Rosenstein joins law and lobbying firm DHS issues bulletin warning of potential Iranian cyberattack MORE, “cyber” topped the list of major global threats.

Coats noted that while Russia and China “pose the greatest espionage and cyber attack threats,” other countries “will increasingly build and integrate cyber espionage, attack, and influence capabilities into their efforts to influence U.S. policies and advance their own national security interests.”

Another major cyber threat that has grown in the past year is that of ransomware attacks, where an attacker encrypts the victim’s system and demands a ransom to unlock it.

Numerous school districts and city governments across the U.S. were hit by ransomware attacks in 2019, severely impacting operations in places such as Baltimore and New Orleans.

While the forthcoming cyber report will focus on protecting the federal government, commission co-chairman Sen. Angus KingAngus KingCongress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran Democrats brace for round two of impeachment witness fight The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases MORE (I-Maine) said he hopes the report’s recommendations will prove useful for states and municipalities as well.

“The federal government can’t provide support for every institution in America that is subject to ransomware. They’ve got to protect themselves. But we can provide guidance, a template, information, and I think that’s the direction we are moving,” King told reporters last month.

Gallagher and King have said the report will be a road map for the challenges ahead, not a backward-looking analysis.

“The recommendations this commission will issue in the spring of 2020 will be forward looking and prescriptive, rather than a snapshot report that sits on a shelf,” Gallagher and King wrote in an August opinion piece for Lawfare.

“The commission will advocate for the implementation of these recommendations so that the U.S. follows through on changing the strategic environment in cyberspace, which currently threatens the long-term security and prosperity of the United States,” they added.

Other commission members include Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOn The Money: Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes | Trade deficit falls to three-year low | Senate confirms Trump pick for small business chief Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes Congress to clash over Trump's war powers MORE (R-Neb.), former Rep. Patrick MurphyPatrick Erin MurphyLawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year First Iraq vet to serve in Congress endorses Buttigieg MORE (D-Pa.), FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist.

Another commission member, Suzanne Spaulding, former under secretary at what’s now the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, said at a conference this past year that she envisioned the report covering everything “short of war.”