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Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill

Lawmakers move to boost federal cybersecurity in annual defense bill
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) said Wednesday that he was pushing for inclusion of measures meant to defend the United States against cyber threats in the upcoming annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said during a virtual committee hearing on cyber threats that he hoped to include a provision creating a federal national cybersecurity leadership position in the NDAA. 

“We are working hard to get included in the NDAA so it can become law, there is the need to put someone in charge, a national cyber director,” Johnson said.

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There is currently no central federal leader for cybersecurity. The departments of Defense and Homeland Security (DHS), along with the intelligence community and the FBI, address cyber threats, but the Trump administration has lacked a central lead since the White House cybersecurity coordinator position was eliminated in 2018. 

Johnson also voiced his support for including a provision that would give DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) the ability to subpoena internet service providers for information on vulnerabilities detected critical infrastructure networks. A House committee approved a bill around this issue in January. 

“It’s a very necessary authority that CISA needs, and I am going to ask everybody on our committee to do everything, by hook or by crook, to hopefully get into the NDAA as well,” Johnson said. 

Both recommendations were backed by the Cybersecurity Solarium Commission (CSC), a group created by Congress in 2018 to evaluate the cyber risks to the United States. The group, which includes members of Congress and federal agency leaders, was charged with laying out recommendations on how to defend the nation against these threats. 

The CSC submitted its report, which included over 75 recommendations on how to prevent a cyber doomsday scenario, in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the world. 

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Sen. Angus KingAngus KingBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Overnight Defense: Biden team voices concern about 'abrupt halt' in Pentagon cooperation | Defense chief pushes back | Lawmakers question whether major cyberattack an act of war Lawmakers ask whether massive hack amounted to act of war MORE (I-Maine), a co-chair of the commission, testified Wednesday that cyber threats were only “magnified” by COVID-19, as attempted hacks on healthcare and research groups involved in fighting the virus have spiked.

“We have to communicate that to our colleagues, that this isn’t something academic, this is coming at us, this isn’t something that may come at us, it’s coming at today,” King said, adding that the private sector is “being pinged millions of times a day by malicious actors.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee was due to examine the CSC’s recommendations at a hearing in March, but the hearing was postponed due to the virus. Johnson said that Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time GOP senators blame Trump after mob overruns Capitol Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-S.D.), the chairman of the committee's cyber panel, is “leading the charge” to get recommendations from the CSC included in the 2021 NDAA.

The NDAA, a sweeping annual bill that allocates funding for the Department of Defense, originates in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Consideration of the bill has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John Gallagher'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack GOP lawmaker on protesters storming Capitol: 'I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq' GOP lawmakers plead for calm, urge Trump to help restore order amid Capitol violence MORE (R-Wis.), the co-chair of the CSC, said he was working with commission member Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: Parler sues Amazon, asks court to reinstate platform | Twitter stock falls after Trump ban | Facebook pauses political spending in wake of Capitol attack Cyber czar to draw on new powers from defense bill Senate approves defense bill establishing cyber czar position, subpoena power for cyber agency MORE (D-R.I.) in the House to gather support for the cybersecurity measures. 

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“As for the prospects in the House, I can’t give you a good assessment right now, but we are working with the committees,” Gallagher testified to the Senate Homeland Security panel. 

Multiple Senate committees have focused on cyber threats to the U.S. this week. 

Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWall Street Journal: GOP Electoral College 'stunt' will hurt US, Republican Party Bipartisan group of senators: The election is over Southwest Airlines says it won't furlough workers after Trump signed relief bill MORE (R-Miss.) and committee members Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses MORE (D-Nev.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Colo.) introduced legislation on Wednesday to boost cybersecurity research and innovation.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Murkowski blasts Trump's election claims, calls House impeachment appropriate MORE (R-Alaska), along with Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), introduced a separate bill this week to help grid operators boost cybersecurity and protect critical information against attacks. 

King underlined the consequences if Congress fails to take action to protect the nation against cyberattacks, saying an attack with widespread negative consequences was “going to happen.”

“We are seeing the longest wind up for a punch in the history of the world, but that punch is going to come,” King said.