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New Cybersecurity Bills to Fortify Nation’s Defenses Proposed in Senate

Two newly introduced cybersecurity-related bills are meant to fortify the nation’s defenses against online attacks on critical infrastructure and extend digital resources to protect states against cyber incidents.

The Continuity of Economy Act of 2020 would require the White House to draw up a plan to keep the U.S. economy afloat in the event of a large scale cyber attack. The National Guard Cyber Interoperability Act of 2020 would create a pilot program to allow military reserve units to provide remote cybersecurity support and technical assistance across state lines. Both pieces of legislation are sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Peters said the nation isn’t “sufficiently prepared” to defend itself against cyber attacks by foreign adversaries or to recover from a digital broadside. “Our adversaries like China, Russia and Iran are constantly probing our critical infrastructure and government systems to identify weaknesses that could be exploited in the event of a conflict,” he said. “These bills will help prepare our country to defend against and recover from serious attacks on our critical infrastructure – including our financial institutions, transportation infrastructure, and health care facilities – that could cause severe disruption to our daily lives.”

Should the economic continuity legislation ultimately end up signed into law, the White House would be on the hook to coordinate with other federal agencies and the private sector to come up with a strategy to ensure a cyber disruption doesn’t floor the economy. The bill would:

  • Determine which public and private sector entities are integral to the national economy.
  • Establish a framework for rapidly restarting and recovering core functions in a crisis.
  • Identify areas for independent investments in resilience.
  • Expand public awareness efforts to prepare for the possibility of such an event.

The National Guard bill calls for the Army, Air Force and the Department Homeland Security (DHS), to develop a pilot program for the National Guard to provide remote cybersecurity support and technical assistance to states responding to cyber incidents. The National Guard has some 3,900 cyber troops in 59 cyber units with elements in all 50 states. To date, at least 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have introduced or considered more than 280 bills or resolutions that deal significantly with cybersecurity, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

The economic continuity act springs from recommendations by the Cyber Solarium Commission, a bipartisan, bicameral panel of lawmakers and experts who last March issued dozens of calls to action for Congress and President Trump to protect the country from cyber attacks and defend its election infrastructure. Among those were cybersecurity continuity recommendations. Peters’ bill would build on the Commission’s recommendation to incorporate continuity operations not only in the event of a cyber attack, but other significant events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also help address the wave of ransomware attacks that has hobbled a number of U.S. cities and towns.

A year ago, Peters co-sponsored the State and Local Government Cybersecurity Act written to encourage national cybersecurity watchdogs to share information, including threats, vulnerabilities, breaches and resources, with states to help prevent and recover from cyber attacks. In January, Peters co-sponsored a bill that would assign a cybersecurity coordinator to liaison with all levels of government to prepare, respond and remediate cyber attacks. Both bills have joined a slew of others that have languished on the Senate floor without an up or down vote.

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