Lawmaker doesn't rule out cyber security regulation

Oct. 11, 2005
The U.S. government needs a better handle on the cyber security risk, particularly to Internet-powered SCADA systems that control such critical infrastructure as dams, electricity grids and water and sewer systems.
A key U.S. lawmaker focused on cybersecurity said he prefers to stay away from new government regulations to ensure Internet safety, but he didn’t rule them out, either.

Both the U.S. government and private companies haven’t focused enough attention on cybersecurity, said Representative Dan Lungren, chairman of the House Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee. Congress could consider a combination of new regulations and incentives to get companies to take cybersecurity more seriously, said Lungren, a California Republican, although he didn’t offer specific ideas.

Lungren would prefer the private sector come up with cybersecurity fixes, he said. “Congress could do it totally by regulation, to impose our judgment on the private sector to do those things that we think must be done,” he said, while speaking at a cybersecurity policy forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Nortel Networks Corp. “My fear is, if we do that, we will stifle the kind of innovation that’s available to the private sector to come up with their own fixes.”

While speakers at the Nortel event endorsed private-sector solutions to cybersecurity problems, Lungren and Nortel Chief Executive Officer Bill Owens also raised concerns about the current state of cybersecurity. The U.S. government needs a better handle on the cybersecurity risk, particularly to Internet-powered supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that control such critical infrastructure as dams, electricity grids and water and sewer systems, Lungren said.

“There was a concern about cybersecurity at the time [SCADA systems] were being developed,” he said. “We have to go back and look at all those things now.”

Lungren called on the U.S. government to do a better job of anticipating Internet-based attacks. “I’m not certain we have actual … warning architecture that would identify precursors to a cyberattack,” he said.

Owens warned that as more and more devices, including wireless phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants), rely on IP (Internet Protocol) to transmit information, the possibility of cyberattacks will increase. In the next two to three years, most handheld devices will transmit over IP, he predicted.

“Then it’s not just a terrorist … or the hacker intruding into your network on his laptop; it’s any individual on a mobile phone able to infect anywhere in the world,” Owens said. “I am frightened as hell about this issue of cybersecurity.”

While Lungren talked about ways the U.S. government needs to respond better to cybersecurity, the leading cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defended his agency’s efforts. DHS has a number of cybersecurity efforts in the works, said Andy Purdy, acting director of the DHS National Cybersecurity Division, and a new assistant secretary for cybersecurity at DHS should bring more attention to the issue.

Purdy, like Lungren, laid some of the responsibility at the feet of private companies, including software vendors. “We’re trying to promote a message of shared responsibility,” he said. “It is not enough to hold end users accountable for securing their systems. We have to encourage — we have to demand — that those who produce hardware and software do their job … to reduce the vulnerabilities so we can all be safer.”

Lungren called for DHS to better understand what cyberattacks are most likely and to put its resources into stopping those attacks. The U.S. government must prioritize its efforts into stopping “attacks on those targets that will result in the most dire consequences.”

“One thing is abundantly clear … that is a government that attempts to everything for everybody and solve every problem will probably do a very poor job at anything,” he said. “If we at the federal level believe we can answer all questions, we in fact will answer very few very well.”