President Obama Friday called on the Senate to pass comprehensive legislation aimed at protecting critical national infrastructure, including energy facilities, from cyber attacks prior to leaving for its August recess.
"So far, no one has managed to seriously damage or disrupt our critical infrastructure networks. But foreign governments, criminal syndicates and lone individuals are probing our financial, energy and public safety systems every day," Obama wrote in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal. More recently, he said "hackers penetrated the [computer] networks of companies that operate our natural gas pipelines."
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that there has been an "active series" of cyber attacks on gas pipeline companies' computer networks since last December (see NGI, May 14). DHS said it is working with the FBI and other federal agencies, as well as pipelines, to identify the cyber intruders.
In addition to gas pipelines, "computer systems in [other] critical sectors of our economy -- including the nuclear and chemical industries -- are being increasingly targeted," the president said.
In an attempt to get cybersecurity legislation passed before the August recess, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and four co-sponsors have introduced a watered-down bill that calls for privacy protections for consumers and does away with government-mandated security standards. The bill, the "Cybersecurity Act of 2012," is backed by Obama.
"We have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to take action now and stay a step ahead of our adversaries," the president said. "We all know what needs to happen. We need to make it easier for the government to share threat information so critical infrastructure companies are better prepared. We need to make it easier for these companies -- with reasonable liability protection -- to share data and information with government when they're attacked. And we need to make it easier for government, if asked, to help these companies prevent and recover from attacks."
But sharing information is not enough, Obama said. "Ultimately, this is about security gaps that have to be filled. To their credit, many of these companies have boosted their cyber defenses. But many others have not, with some lacking even the most basic protection: a good password.
"The American people deserve to know that companies running our critical infrastructure meet basic, commonsense cybersecurity standards, just as they already meet other security requirements. Nuclear power plants must have fences and defenses to thwart a terrorist attack. Water treatment plants must test their water regularly for contaminants. Airplanes must have secure cockpit doors. We all understand the need for these kinds of physical security measures. It would be the height of irresponsibility to leave a digital backdoor wide open to our cyber adversaries," Obama said.
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