A bill in the U.S. Senate would require operators of so-called critical infrastructure networks to adopt cybersecurity practices if evaluations by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security find their security lacking.
The new bill, introduced Tuesday by four senators, would cover operators of systems that, if compromised, would cause mass death, evacuation or major damage to the U.S. economy, said the sponsors, including Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
If DHS found security holes at a critical infrastructure operator, the bill would require the operator to work with DHS to develop new security performance requirements.
"This bill would begin to arm us for battle in a war against the cyber mayhem that is being waged against us by our nation's enemies, organized criminal gangs, and terrorists who would use the Internet against us as surely as they turned airliners into guided missiles," Lieberman said in a statement. "The nation responded after 9/11 to improve its security. Now we must respond to this challenge so that a cyber 9/11 attack on America never happens."
The bill addresses the urgent issue of cybersecurity, added Senator John "Jay" Rockefeller, a cosponsor and West Virginia Democrat. "The new frontier in the war against terrorists is being fought online and this bill will level the playing field," he said in a statement. "We can and will stop cyber criminals from getting the upper hand."
Bill cosponsors Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, also sponsored a bill in 2010 that would have allowed the U.S. president to order the shutdown of parts of the Internet in a cybersecurity crisis. This controversial "Internet kill switch" language isn't in the new bill.
Sponsors of the bill also distanced their legislation from controversial copyright enforcement bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which have stalled in Congress after widespread opposition from Internet users. The new bill "in no way resembles" SOPA or PIPA, but focuses on the security of systems that control essential services such as power, water and transportation, the sponsors said in a press release.
The new bill, called the Cybersecurity Act, would allow owners of systems designated by DHS as critical infrastructure to appeal the designation. The bill allows owners of critical infrastructure systems to decide how best to meet the performance standards developed with the agency.
The bill would also consolidate the cybersecurity programs at DHS, and it attempts to reform the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the cybersecurity rules in place for federal agencies.
Some digital rights groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union, have applauded the sponsors for dumping the idea of an Internet kill switch. The bill also allows private businesses to share cyberthreat information with each other and with DHS, and representatives of the two groups, during a forum last week, said it's important for the bill to limit the information that can be shared to cybersecurity issues and to limit who can receive it.
The Senate bill "does pretty well" in limiting the shared information being used for other law enforcement purposes, said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at CDT.
The Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group, praised the efforts of the bill's sponsors. The sponsors have "made significant progress in striking a balance" between protecting innovation and regulating critical infrastructure, the group said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.