Lawmakers introduce legislation to create civilian reserve program to fight hackers

A group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate on Wednesday rolled out legislation that would create a National Guard-style program to help defend critical systems against increasing cyberattacks from nation states and criminals. 

The Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Act would establish a civilian reserve program to provide cybersecurity training for individuals who have previously worked for either the U.S. federal government or armed services. They would then be available as resources for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to boost federal cybersecurity protections. 

The bill has bipartisan support, and is sponsored by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in the Senate, alongside Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) in the House. 

It was introduced as both the Biden administration and Congress have been forced to concentrate on enhancing the cybersecurity of critical systems in the wake of multiple major hacking incidents. 

The SolarWinds hack, discovered in December, involved Russian hackers compromising nine federal agencies, while new vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server announced in March allowed Chinese hackers to potentially breach thousands of organizations.

Cyber criminals have also stepped up attacks on vulnerable groups during the pandemic, with state and local governments, hospitals and schools increasingly hit by debilitating ransomware attacks over the past year. 

Rosen pointed to the escalating cyberattacks Wednesday, saying they “demonstrate the risks of not addressing our severe cyber workforce shortage.”

“As cybersecurity threats continue to grow in scale, frequency, and sophistication, it’s critical that we find innovative solutions to address this deficiency,” she said in a statement. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure the Federal Government has the cyber experts needed to quickly respond to threats, especially when our nation is under attack.”

Blackburn compared the potential reserve cyber corps that the legislation would create to the National Guard or Army Reserve. 

“The complexity of the cyber domain creates the need for mission-capable personnel ready to confront these new challenges,” she said in a separate statement. “The Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Pilot project represents a big step in strengthening America’s cybersecurity posture.”

Panetta said that the legislation is vital to address homeland security concerns, asserting that “we lack the total necessary federal workforce needed to fully address these risks,” while Calvert underlined the “tremendous benefits” that having access to “qualified and pre-screened individuals with technical skills” could provide.

The cybersecurity sector has increasingly faced a workforce gap as more daily activities have moved online, with cyber threats multiplying as a result. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a speech on his cybersecurity goals last month that addressing the workforce gap would be one of his priorities. 

“We cannot tackle ransomware and the broader cybersecurity challenges without talented and dedicated people who can help protect our schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, and communities,” Mayorkas said.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas China Cyberattack Cybercrime cybersecurity Cyberwarfare Jacky Rosen Jimmy Panetta Ken Calvert Marsha Blackburn Microsoft Ransomware Russia SolarWinds SolarWinds hack

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