- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Senate committee is quickly moving forward on a proposal that gives the U.S. Department of Homeland Security more authority in protecting government websites.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015 on Wednesday, paving the way for the full Congress to soon consider a bill that aims to put all government websites ending in .gov under the umbrella of DHS protection.

Despite having been introduced to the panel only two days earlier by Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, and Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, expedient passage of the bipartisan bill on Wednesday occurred not before two amendments were tacked on to incorporate provisions of a similar cyber bill that was also already being considered.

Upon adoption of the amendments brought by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, Montana Democrat, co-sponsors of the FISMA Reform Act of 2015 introduced a week earlier, the bill approved by the panel on Wednesday now includes five specific facets that lawmakers say are needed to secure the government’s Web domains.

Specifically, the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015 calls on the DHS to defend all federal agencies on the .gov domain, but also directs the conduction of routine risk assessments, greenlights the deployment of defensive countermeasures and otherwise strengths the department’s oversight over the government’s cyber sector.

“Right now, DHS does not have the authorities it needs to enforce cybersecurity standards, and agencies’ reliance on DHS to find and neutralize cyberthreats is voluntary. That’s a real problem as we face a growing number of these cyberattacks, because our federal networks are only as secure as their weakest link,” said Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the co-author of the FISMA bill that’s since been incorporated into the enhancement act.

“The recent cyberattack at OPM affected a staggering number of Americans and exposed a tremendous vulnerability with the status quo in the defense of federal civilian networks,” added his co-author, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican. “This attack was a stark reminder that our adversaries are increasingly turning to the cyber realm, and we must make certain that the Department of Homeland Security is empowered to deploy effective tools in the .gov domain to ensure that government agencies are properly protected. This bipartisan legislation is crucial to securing our government systems and helping to prevent future, potentially devastating cyberattacks against our nation.”

A security breach suffered earlier this year by the Office of Personnel Management allowed hackers to make off with the personally identifiable information of millions of Americans.

The Senate had been on course to vote soon on a similar cyber bill proposed last year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, in the wake of other high-profile hacks, but lawmakers said this week that consideration likely now won’t occur until at least September.

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