The long-awaited cyber-security proposals from the White House address who protects critical infrastructure and calls for a federal data-breach-notification law.
The Obama administration has
unveiled a cyber-security plan to provide protection for critical
infrastructure, data-breach-notification laws and cyber-defense. The plan closely
endorses the bill sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada that is currently
under consideration in Congress.
The White House proposal
addresses how to protect critical infrastructure, including electric grids,
financial systems and transportation networks, from cyber-attackers. The
Department of Homeland Security would take the lead role in working with states
and businesses to respond to cyber-attacks and provide immunity to
organizations that share cyber-security information, according to a fact sheet
posted May 12 on the White House blog
The administration struck a
balance between securing critical infrastructure and not making decisions for
the companies who actually own and operate the infrastructure. Companies
retained a lot of authority to draw up their own cyber-security plans and
implement them. The plan summaries have to be publicized and if it doesn't seem
comprehensive enough, DHS can modify it, according to the proposal.
proposal strikes a critical balance between maintaining the government's role
and providing industry with the capacity to innovatively tackle threats to
national cyber-security," said White House cyber-security coordinator Howard
Companies would also be
required to report any "significant cyber-security incident" to DHS. The White
House asked for legislation that would give Homeland Security a much more
active role in working with the private sector. The lack of a "clear statutory
framework" describing the role DHS could play has "slowed the ability" of the
department to help organizations looking for help dealing with cyber-security,
according to the White House.
DHS would have "enhanced
authority" over certain "key" infrastructure, but the proposals did not specify
how the agency would define which companies would be classified as critical
infrastructure and core critical infrastructure. Those companies will be under
additional regulatory oversight to ensure they are implementing proper security
The Senate and the White
House are on the "same track" on cyber-security, according to a statement issued
jointly by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Tom Carper. "We both
recognize that the government and the private sector must work together to
secure our nation's most critical infrastructure, for example, our energy,
water, financial, telecommunications and transportation systems," according to
Companies that fail to scrub
personal identifying information from data shared with the government will face
civil penalties. The administration would be able to publicly call out any
company that failed to secure its networks adequately.
While it was a step in the
right direction, "the proposal would benefit from some specifics. Actually, a lot more specifics," Rob Rachwald
, director of security for
Imperva, wrote on the company blog. There were no specific, actionable steps to
protect data, intellectual property and infrastructure, Rachwald said.
President Obama also called
for a federal data-breach-notification law. Currently, organizations have to
negotiate "a patchwork of 47 state laws" after a data breach.
The White House proposal
also sought to clarify penalties for computer crimes and set minimum prison
terms for breaching critical systems.
"While I'm pleased to see
the White House devoting time and energy to this increasingly critical issue, I
have yet to see what we most need-enforceable laws with realistic penalties,"
Paul Henry, a security and forensic analyst at Lumension, told eWEEK.
The Internet "kill switch"
that popped up in conversations earlier this year and defense-related policies
were not included anywhere in the proposal. It also does not include provisions
for an Office of Cyberspace with a director confirmed by the Senate. The office
has been proposed in several bills currently circulating in Congress.
"While the proposal
addresses a number of cyber-security vulnerabilities, it does not appear to
adequately delineate the authority of the federal government to act in
coordination with the private sector during a major cyber-attack," said Rob Strayer,
director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Preparedness
The proposals called for
strengthening the FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act), which defines
how the federal government defends its networks. The modified FISMA would
authorize DHS to deploy an active monitoring and defense program
government-wide, expand its hiring authority to directly hire the
cyber-security specialists and temporarily exchange experts with the private sector.
Rachwald suggested that
PCI-DSS (PCI Data Security Standard) regulations, or something similar, should
be included in the proposal to help improve data security. "We've seen states
and private industry succeed with a specific approach, why ignore it?" Rachwald
Lawmakers will be looking at
Sen. Reid's bill and debating the differences between the bill and administration's
in the days ahead. The
cyber-security law will be enacted only if the Senate bill passes, and if the
House votes on a comparable bill. Reid and other lawmakers have been waiting
for this proposal since last July.