Homeland Security panel OKs bills to help states, ports fight hackers

The House Homeland Security Committee this week approved two cybersecurity bills aimed at helping states and ports fight off hackers.

The first bill, from Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), would direct the federal government to provide state and local officials with the technical know-how and strategies they are sorely lacking in the fight against overseas cyberattacks.


The second bill, from Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), would help maritime ports share data on hacking threats in the hopes of staving off a destructive attack. Ports have been increasing the amount of automation used to move cargo from ships to trucks and rail, which has raised fears about potential cyberattacks.

Each bill has moved swiftly. Both were introduced within the last week and both passed out of committee by voice vote.

Both measures are part of Congress’s ongoing efforts to boost the role the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plays in securing government networks.

Hurd's measure would empower the DHS cyber hub, known as the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), to work with local agencies.

The NCCIC is the repository for all things cyber at the federal level. It collects information on hacking threats from across the government, as well as from the private sector. The center also employs a cyber emergency response team that works to mitigate fallout from digital intrusions.

Lawmakers see it as an under-tapped resource when it comes to battling overseas hackers.

“This is more than just about protecting the private information of individuals who work for local government agencies,” said Hurd, a former cyber-focused undercover CIA officer who now chairs the Subcommittee on Information Technology of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Frankly, cyber breaches at any level can put our national security at risk.”

Torres’s bill was introduced on the heels of a House hearing on port security that raised the rapidly growing cyber threat ports faced.

“This is due in part to port landlords not always coordinating with port tenants and also to federal agencies only beginning to consider the impact of a cyberattack on our maritime infrastructure in its security assessments and strategies,” said Torres, who sits on the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, when introducing the bill.

The measure would direct the DHS and the NCCIC to coordinate more closely with the the Coast Guard and the Maritime Security Council, an industry group representing shipping firms. The two sides would work on boosting the exchange of cyber threat data and on developing explicit plans to counter hackers.

There’s no time frame for when either bill might make it to the floor.