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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 GallagherReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the 'Badger Belt' Actors union blasts Democrat for criticizing GOP lawmaker's wife Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats 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 TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE last month, extended the initial deadline for the commission to produce the report to April 30.

Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinPressure grows to reinstall White House cyber czar Hillicon Valley: Biden expected to take hard line on foreign interference | EU files antitrust charges against Amazon | Facebook takes down Bannon-linked network Biden's hard stand on foreign election interference signals funding fight 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 CoatsLobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Avoiding the 1876 scenario in November 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 KingLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Republicans start turning the page on Trump era 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 SasseBen SasseHogan 'embarrassed that more people' in the GOP 'aren't speaking up' against Trump Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Neb.), former Rep. Patrick MurphyPatrick Erin MurphyMast fends off Democratic challenge to retain Florida House seat Supreme Court rules that large swath of Oklahoma belongs to Indian reservation Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 5G rivals to Huawei | Amazon, eBay grilled over online counterfeits | Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google | GOP senator introduces bill banning TikTok on government devices 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.”