Failure of Senate to pass Cybersecurity Act leaves us all at risk

The Senate failed to muster enough votes to pass the watered-down Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105) earlier this month, which reminds me of the line by Col. Nathan R. Jessep in the movie "A Few Good Men": "All you did was weaken a country today ... That's all you did. You put people's lives in danger."

Overly dramatic? Hardly, given it is common knowledge that enterprises, institutions and government agencies are being hammered by increasingly focused and sophisticated attacks by nation-states. The bill had the backing of many key military figures and national security officials.

MORE: Cybersecurity Legislation and APTs: Listen to the security pros

As originally proposed, S. 2105 would have required the Department of Homeland Security to, in a nutshell, figure out which operators of critical national infrastructure should be required to meet new security standards, figure out how to hold those operators accountable, and finally require "the private sector and the federal government to share threats, incidents, best practices, and fixes, while maintaining civil liberties and privacy."

(This Senate bill isn't to be confused with the House's Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA, which traded away too many personal liberties in the name of security and was just voted down.)

Even though the sponsors of S. 2105 lifted the mandatory requirements of the bill in a last-minute effort to get it passed, only 52 senators voted for it, short of the 60 votes needed.

That leaves us all at risk.

"I can't think of a more urgent issue facing this country," Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said of the bill. "Hackers are stealing information from Fortune 500 companies, breaking into the networks of our government and security agencies and toying with the networks that power our economy."

And not just any hackers, says Peter George, CEO of Fidelis Security Systems, which has 40 government agencies on its customer roster. Enterprises used to be fighting hackers down the street, he says, and now they're fighting nations with dedicated national security agencies. "That's who they have to keep out of their network, and they need our country to help them. The federal government has insight to that threat vector that commercial CSOs don't have."

Should we be surprised that the government failed to address this critical issue? Not after what we learned last December when it appeared an Illinois water utility was hacked.

While that incident turned out to be a false alarm, our glacial response to the apparent problem showed we haven't even ironed out the escalation processes for infrastructure events, let alone shown a willingness and ability to tackle the much bigger problem of addressing the inadequacies of infrastructure security.

Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that the government won't get this done until something catastrophic happens.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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