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Democrats introduce bill providing $400 million to protect schools from cyberattacks

Democrats introduce bill providing $400 million to protect schools from cyberattacks
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Reps. Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiOvernight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines Cyberattack forces shutdown of Baltimore County schools for the day Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg and Dorsey return for another hearing | House passes 5G funding bill | Twitter introduces 'fleets' MORE (D-Calif.) and 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.) on Friday introduced legislation designed to funnel federal dollars and other resources to K-12 schools to defend against cyberattacks.

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would establish a $400 million “K-12 Cybersecurity Human Capacity” grant program at the National Science Foundation to help expand the cyber workforce and improve infrastructure in order to better protect educational institutions against attacks.

The bill would also establish a “cybersecurity registry” at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to track cyberattacks on K-12 institutions, along with establishing a separate “cybersecurity clearinghouse” at CISA to provide best practices and guidance to educational institutions on how to defend against cyber targeting.

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Cyberattacks on K-12 schools have become an increasing concern over the past year and spiked when classes moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to necessitate virtual platforms for learning, and we must do everything in our power to secure the networks and infrastructure our students rely on,” Matsui, who serves as vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said in a statement. “As children and their families adjust to a new learning environment, this bill will help ensure that we are protecting students from cyber threats that have been on the rise.”

Langevin, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threat and Capabilities, said in a separate statement that the bill will “help promote cybersecurity, protect student privacy and prevent interruptions to distance learning."

“With millions of students and families relying on online connectivity for remote learning during this public health crisis, we must ensure cybersecurity is a top priority and that the networks schools are using are safe and secure,” he added. 

The bill was introduced the day after the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, made public a report concluding that escalating cyberattacks on schools were posing potential harm to students.

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School districts have seen classed interrupted by various forms of cyberattacks both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, with classes most recently disrupted by cyberattacks on the Fairfax County, Va., school district and on Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The phenomenon of “Zoom bombing” has become an increasing problem for virtual classes, with many classes help on video conferencing platform Zoom interrupted by individuals spreading inappropriate messages, including racist comments and pornography.  

The legislation introduced by Matsui and Langevin is not the first bill floated to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities at schools.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Gary PetersGary PetersTwo Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots US government caught blindsided over sophisticated cyber hack, experts say Krebs emphasizes security of election as senators butt heads MORE (D-Mich.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in December introduced a bill to promote the creation of cybersecurity resources for schools. The bill has so far not advanced.