Bipartisan commission to make 75 recommendations to defend against cyberattacks

A new report by a bipartisan commission will include at least 75 recommendations for Congress and the executive branch on how to defend the nation against cyberattacks, including bipartisan recommendations for defending elections. 

Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which includes lawmakers, federal officials and industry leaders, highlighted the group’s focus on election security during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, previewing some of the recommendations that will be among those released March 11. 

Commission member former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) said the report — which marks a major effort to create a blueprint for federal action on cybersecurity going forward — was “biased towards action,” and was meant to spur change.

“It’s not some report that is going to be in the Library of Congress that no one is going to look at again,” Murphy said. “There is going to be some legislative action, there are going to be some executive actions.”

The report’s recommendations around election security will mark a rare bipartisan effort to address the issue following years of contention on Capitol Hill after Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

The commission includes FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, Co-Chairman and Rep. Michael Gallagher (R-Wis.), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), and former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency Chris Inglis. 

At least two of the report’s recommendations will revolve around the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), one of the key federal election agencies. The commission will urge the addition of a fifth commissioner to the current four-person commission to address cyber threats to elections. 

Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) emphasized that without this person, the EAC is “totally gridlocked” due to a balance between Republican and Democratic members.

“We think it’s a lost cause to try to rebalance the commission totally, but for this case we think it’s important to have a special member … to try to break the deadlock, otherwise we’re stuck,” King said. 

In addition, the commission will also zero in on using paper ballots for voting, and according to King will include a recommendation that the EAC facilitate funding to states to move to using paper ballots. 

The EAC is in charge of distributing federal funds given to states over the past few years for election security, including the $425 million appropriated by Congress to states as part of the 2020 appropriations cycle. 

Another recommendation will address the ability of foreign individuals to buy advertisements on social media without being subject to the same laws as political advertisements on traditional media sources such as radio and television. 

King described this issue as a “gap,” and said existing laws need to be updated to include social media platforms.

He pointed specifically to the need to pass a bill introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) last year that would ban foreign governments or their agents from purchasing online ads meant to influence U.S. elections. 

Senate Democrats attempted to force a vote on this bill in the Senate in December, but were blocked by Republicans who cited concerns that it was meant to attack the Trump administration. 

Republicans have repeatedly blocked Democratic efforts over the past few months to pass election security bills, mostly pointing to concerns that the bills would federalize elections. 

Commission member Suzanne Spaulding, the former under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, on Tuesday emphasized the need to educate the public on threats to elections.

Spaulding said Russian agents promoting disinformation aimed to “get Americans to give up,” adding that “the way we fight back is to stay engaged and to vote.”

The cybersecurity of political campaigns will also be addressed by the report, with Spaulding noting their “vulnerability” to attacks.

The commission was created by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, with members appointed by the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate last year. 

The group got its name from “Project Solarium,” which was formed under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 to formulate recommendations to defend the U.S. against threats from the Soviet Union. 

Members of the commission are set to appear at two further events this week to preview other recommendations that will be included in the report, such as those around defending critical infrastructure from attacks. 

King underlined the importance of addressing the broad cybersecurity threats to the U.S. during his remarks on Tuesday, saying that the recommendations were meant to be “doable” to tackle these threats. 

“This is an urgent problem, we’ve talked about elections today, but it’s a much broader problem than simply elections,” King emphasized.


Tags Angus King Ben Sasse Chris Van Hollen Christopher Wray Marco Rubio Patrick Murphy
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