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Oct 13, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard

Excerpted from THE HILL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he will try and revive stalled cybersecurity legislation on the heels of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s warning that the U.S. is at risk of a devastating cyber-attack.

Panetta, in a speech Thursday, said the country could face a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” with attacks targeting the power grid, trains carrying chemicals, water plants and other critical systems. Reid, in a statement Saturday, said that when Congress returns in November he will bring back legislation that stalled in August. “My colleagues who profess to understand the urgency of the threat will have one more chance to back their words with action, and work with us to pass this bill,” Reid said.

A bipartisan cybersecurity bill failed to secure the needed 60 votes to advance in early August, an impasse fueled by GOP concerns that the bill would require too much from businesses.

The failed Senate bill would have empowered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to set minimum, voluntary cybersecurity standards for operators of critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, electric grids and banks.

The measure would have also encouraged the government and the private sector to share information about cyberthreats.

While renewing the legislative push, Reid also defended White House plans to beef up cybersecurity with an executive order, which has drawn concerns from a number of Republicans. Reid noted that “Secretary Panetta has made clear that inaction is not an option.

“Cybersecurity is an issue that should be handled by Congress, but with Republicans engaging in Tea Party-motivated obstruction, I believe that President Obama is right to examine all means at his disposal for confronting this urgent national security threat,” Reid said.

A group of House and Senate Republicans, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), offered a number of criticisms of the planned executive order in a letter to President Obama Thursday.

The White House has drafted an executive order aimed at protecting critical infrastructure systems from cyber-attacks amid congressional gridlock on cybersecurity legislation. The draft order would establish a voluntary program in which companies that operate critical infrastructure would take steps to better secure their computer systems and meet a set of security standards crafted, in part, by DHS.
The GOP members’ letter calls this “the wrong approach,” adding that it would create “a top-down, one-size-fits-all bureaucracy to address cybersecurity” that will slow down the nation’s response time to a cyber-attack and add more costs to the economy.

They also voiced skepticism about DHS’s ability to manage these cybersecurity efforts.

Panetta issued stark warnings in his speech in New York before the group Business Executives for National Security.

“The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical military systems and communication networks,” he said, according to a Department of Defense transcript.

“The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability,” said Panetta, who called for action on the bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).