Obama scares the hell out of everybody with cybersecurity op-ed

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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In a Thursday Wall Street Journal Opinion piece, President Barack Obama evoked images of mass disaster should a cyber attack wreak havoc on the nation’s transportation and water systems.

Fear of a deadly cyber-attack by a state or terrorist group loom heavy over the heads of lawmakers, as well as current and former high-ranking national security officials. Obama’s piece echoed a consistent theme: The nation’s cyberdefenses are vulnerable to major attack from states and terrorists, and federal legislation must be passed that would require companies that are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure to abide by federal safety standards.

If the alleged leaks about the U.S. cyberwarfare program are true, then the U.S. has already demonstrated that such capabilities are within reach. The famed STUXNET virus, which caused centrifuges used for enriching uranium at a secret Iranian nuclear facility to malfunction, was targeting Iranian progress towards developing a nuclear weapon.

The president threw his weight behind the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which is sponsored by Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and favored by Democratic Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid.

After it was introduced in February, the bill was opposed by Senate Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for giving the Department of Homeland Security the ability to assess and set the security standards for power companies, utilities and other companies considered part of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

In order for the bill to make it through the Senate, however, Reid will need the support of his Republican colleagues. Lieberman and several of his colleagues reintroduced a revised version of the bill on Thursday that is designed to meet Republican concerns — particularly that government and the private sector should share threat information in order to bolster defenses against incoming attacks.

The revision also attempts to appease critics of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act — a bill that won favor in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for its emphasis on information-sharing between the federal government and the private sector. Critics of the bill feared that such information-sharing provisions would violate civil liberties and privacy. The revisions seek to address those concerns as well.

While lawmakers push to pass legislation before November, the bill could see a floor vote as early as next week to make it in time before the August recess.

“So far, no one has managed to seriously damage or disrupt our critical infrastructure networks,” Obama wrote. “But foreign governments, criminal syndicates and lone individuals are probing our financial, energy and public safety systems every day.”

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