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Sen. Feinstein urges Obama to issue executive order on cybersecurity

Measure needed to protect critical assets against cyber attacks, says top Democrat

A senior Democratic lawmaker is urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order aimed at protecting the nation's critical infrastructure against cyber threats.

In an open letter to the President on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on Obama to use his authority to get government agencies and critical infrastructure owners to implement better controls for protecting their computer networks.

"While efforts to reach consensus continue, I fear that the Congress will be unable to pass meaningful cybersecurity legislation this year," said Feinstein, who is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Therefore, I believe the time has come for you to use your full authority to protect the U.S. economy and the networks we depend on from future cyber attack."

The letter is unlikely to do much to bridge the growing divide between Republicans and the Democrats on the issue of national cybersecurity legislation.

The White House-backed Cybersecurity Act is currently stalled in the Senate because of opposition from Republican lawmakers who see it as too regulatory.

Earlier this year, a group of Republican lawmakers proposed an alternative bill called SECURE IT. Like the Cybersecurity Act, the Republican bill, too, aims to bolster cybersecurity by making it easier for private industry and government to share critical cyber threat information.

The Republicans have claimed their bill is better suited for the task because it focuses on collaboration and voluntary participation rather than government-enforced regulation. They also noted that their version of the bill offers better liability protection for companies that participate in voluntary sharing of threat information.

The White House has already expressed its frustration over the continued bickering between the two sides and has said it is considering an executive order to address the issue.

Efforts to pass a national cybersecurity bill have been going on for several years. The stalled Democrat-backed legislation has already been heavily revised to accommodate Republican concerns, but still appears to be going nowhere. The same is true with the Republican alternative.

Both sides have blamed each other for the stalemate. Earlier this month, several GOP senators expressed support for a bilateral approach to the issue, while accusing the Democrats of adopting a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach to the legislation.

Feinstein's letter meanwhile blamed Republicans for the impasse. "Despite good faith efforts to reach a compromise and major concessions on our part, those opposed to the legislation were able to defeat progress on the bill," she wrote.

Security analysts are divided on the need for legislation. Some have accused both sides of making cybersecurity a political issue during an election year and have noted that many of the measures being proposed as new have been in place for years.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is [email protected].

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com.

Read more about cybercrime and hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.


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