Can Congress Protect the Nation's Critical Infrastructure?

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The nation’s critical infrastructure is at risk--a well-executed cyber attack could have a potentially devastating effect. Congress is trying to patch some of the holes with legislation, but a recent survey found that most security experts have little faith that government regulation can do the trick.

Sensational attacks against the critical infrastructure make for great stories in books like Zero Day: A Novel by respected security expert Mark Russinovich, or perhaps something from Dan Brown. But, many security experts believe that we are in very real danger of such attacks moving from fiction to reality, and that we are woefully unprepared to defend against, or respond to them.

Most of our elected officials are simply not qualified to craft information security legislation.
What is the “critical infrastructure”? Executive Order 13010, signed by President Clinton on July 15, 1996 established the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection. It explains, “Certain national infrastructures are so vital that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on the defense or economic security of the United States.”

Natural gas, electricity, drinking water, nuclear facilities, roads and highways, air traffic, railroads, and the Internet itself can all be classified as being part of our critical infrastructure.

The Cyber Security Act of 2012 is being considered on Capitol Hill right now. The legislation is a bi-partisan bill supported by President Barack Obama, the White House Office of Management and Budegt (OMB), as well as many major tech companies including Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle. Can it help? Is it enough?

Information security professionals and security experts from around the world were recently gathered in Las Vegas for Black Hat USA 2012. nCircle--an information risk and security performance management company--took advantage of the opportunity to survey the attendees.

nCircle asked “Will government regulation improve information security for critical infrastructure?” 60 percent of those surveyed answered “No.”

The skepticism seems to be based on the historical track record of information security legislation. Congress seems to let lobbyists and special interests draft the language of legislation, and the result is often broadly-worded bills that are technically inaccurate, or unfeasible.

Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development for nCircle, explains, “While the U.S. government has some outstanding security researchers, they are confined to the DoD [Department of Defense] and other cabinet agencies where the focus is on gathering data, not sharing it.”

Protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure is vital. Congress should pay attention to surveys such as this one, and it should recognize its own limitations when it comes to understanding the risks, never mind crafting solutions.

Step one for Congress to protect the critical infrastructure is for Congress to invite those who actually know what they’re talking about to the table and involve them in the process.

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