This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows a reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo in the eyeglasses of a cybersecurity analyst at the watch and warning center of the Department of Homeland Security’s secretive cyber defense facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The center is tasked with protecting the nation’s power, water and chemical plants, electrical grid and other facilities from cyber attacks. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File
(AP)—The mysterious caller claimed to be from Microsoft and offered
step-by-step instructions to repair damage from a software virus. The
electric power companies weren’t falling for it.
caller, who was never traced or identified, helpfully instructed the
companies to enable specific features in their computers that actually
would have created a trapdoor in their networks. That vulnerability
would have allowed hackers to shut down a plant and thrown thousands of
customers into the dark.
The power employees hung up on the caller and ignored the advice.
incident from February, documented by one of the government’s emergency
cyber-response teams, shows the persistent threat of electronic attacks
and intrusions that could disrupt the country’s most critical
House this week will consider legislation to better defend these and
other corporate networks from foreign governments, cybercriminals and
terrorist groups. But deep divisions over how best to handle the growing
problem mean that solutions are a long way off.
Chief among the disputes is the role of the government in protecting the private sector.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups oppose requiring
cybersecurity standards. Rules imposed by Washington would increase
their costs without reducing their risks, they say.
administration officials and security experts say companies that
operate power plants, communication systems, chemical facilities and
more should have to meet performance standards to prove they can
withstand attacks or recover quickly from them.
rift echoes the heated debate in Washington over the scope of
government and whether new regulations hamper private businesses.
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that without standards
for critical industries, there will be gaps that U.S. adversaries can
exploit. “That system, which is mostly in private hands, needs to all
come up to a certain baseline level,” she said.
proposed formation of a system that allows U.S. intelligence agencies
and the private sector to share information about hackers and the
techniques they use to control the inner workings of corporate networks
also is contentious.
libertarians and privacy advocates worry that a bill written by the
Republican chairman and top Democrat on the House intelligence committee
would create a backdoor surveillance system by giving the secretive
National Security Agency access to private sector data.
agency, based at Fort Meade, Md., is in charge of gathering electronic
intelligence from foreign governments but is barred from spying on
Americans. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, also heads the
Pentagon’s Cyber Command, which protects military networks.
question is whether this is a cybersecurity bill or an intelligence
bill,” said Leslie Harris, president of the nonprofit Center for
Democracy and Technology. “There is just a fundamental debate over what
role the National Security Agency should have in protecting civilian
agencies say the bill grants no new power to the NSA or the Defense
Department to direct any public or private cybersecurity programs. But
committee leaders said they are open to making changes to ease the
privacy concerns as long as the alterations don’t undermine the goals of
including Facebook and the Edison Electric Institute support the bill
because it leaves it to individual companies and industries to decide
how best to prevent attacks.
Republicans last week scaled back a separate piece of legislation that
would have given the Department of Homeland Security and other federal
agencies responsibility for ensuring that critical industries met
security performance standards. But those requirements were dropped from
the bill during a meeting of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Jim Langevin, co-chairman of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus,
said the bill was “gutted” because the House Republican leadership sided
with business interests opposed to regulations. “We cannot depend on
the good intentions of the owners and operators of infrastructure to
secure our networks,” said Langevin, D-R.I.
The GOP-led House appears to be heading for a showdown with the Democratic-run Senate over an approach on cybersecurity.
bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins,
R-Maine, would give Homeland Security the authority to establish set
security standards. Their bill is backed by the Obama administration but
it remains stalled in the Senate.
The legislation faces stiff opposition from senior Senate Republicans.
John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee,
said during a hearing last month that the Homeland Security Department
is “probably the most inefficient bureaucracy that I have ever
encountered” and is ill-equipped to determine how best to secure the
nation’s essential infrastructure. McCain has introduced a competing
There is little disagreement over damage from cyberattacks.
and Russia are the most proficient at cyber-espionage, according to
U.S. officials who last year accused the two countries of being
“aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive U.S. economic
information and technologies.”
Adm. Samuel Cox, Cyber Command’s director of intelligence, said U.S.
adversaries are developing cyberweapons at a rapid pace. Unlike the
traditional tools of war, there is no technological ceiling for
cyberweapons that can cause computers to crash or become hijacked
remotely and lead to serious economic damage.
is no end in sight,” Cox said. “It’s not like, ‘Well, they’re going to
reach a limit as to how bad these things could be.'”
the House intelligence committee’s bill becomes law, companies could
get “cyberthreat” information and intelligence from the government that
would allow them to identify hackers by their electronic signatures and
Internet addresses. With that data, which is collected by the NSA,
businesses could block attacks or stop them before they do serious
damage. Companies would be encouraged to give the government information
about attacks but there is no requirement to do so.
bill would exempt companies that act “in good faith” from liabilities
that might come from protecting their own networks or sharing
information with the government.
one expert on the computer systems that monitor and control power
grids, oil refineries and chemical plants said critical industries won’t
provide federal agencies with much because they don’t trust the
government. Joe Weiss, a nuclear engineer and managing partner of the
consulting firm Applied Control Solutions, said another catch is that
few companies do the forensic work necessary to understand why a failure
occurred and whether it was an attack or simply a software malfunction.
“What information are you going to share,” Weiss said, “when you don’t even know you’ve had a problem?”
Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.
Source: The Associated Press