TECH & CYBER BRIEFING: CISA Deputy Seeks 24-Hour Cyber Reports

A Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency official wants cyberattacks on critical infrastructure operators to be reported to the government within 24 hours, a divergence from legislation in Congress that sets a 72-hour timeframe.

The increase in cyberattacks on critical infrastructure such as Colonial Pipeline has led lawmakers and federal agencies to push for mandatory reporting of attacks to the government.

“The U.S. government has argued that we think 24 hours is the right amount of time, that brings it early enough for us to use the information, but does give the companies some time to determine whether this is a real incident or not,” Brandon Wales, the executive director for CISA, told Bloomberg Government’s Rebecca Kern during a Bloomberg event yesterday.

“When there are these big incidents that are happening, 24 hours is pretty deep into the response cycle already,” he said. “In the Colonial example, they were already letting customers know that they were shutting down parts of their pipeline well in advance of 24 hours. So we do think that 24 hours is a good metric.”

Legislation moving through Congress would set a 72-hour clock to report to CISA, a provision based on feedback from companies seeking more time to weed out false positives.

Kevin Kirwan, senior vice president at American Water — a trade association representing water and wastewater utilities — raised concerns about smaller utilities being able to respond in such a short period. “When an entity’s dealing with an incident, they’re trying to fight the fire,” Kirwan said in an interview.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a cosponsor of the Senate reporting bill (S. 2875), wants to strike a balanced approach. Peters said in a statement he’s seeking a bill to require reporting of “serious cyber-attacks in a timely manner, without placing additional burdens on organizations that are already struggling to manage and respond to a crisis.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the bill’s cosponsor, said he also doesn’t want to overtax industry or CISA. He said in a statement the bill balances “the need to get CISA information quickly with the need to let critical infrastructure cybersecurity experts focus on defending against cyber-attacks early on in the attack, not filling in forms.”

The House counterpart from Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) advanced as an amendment to the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4350) in September. Peters and Portman’s committee advanced its bill earlier this month, and Peters said he aims to include it in the Senate version of the annual defense bill, potentially leaving any further changes to the bill in the hands of a bicameral conference committee.

A House staffer who worked on the legislation told Bloomberg Government that the panel doesn’t disagree that some incidents can and should be reported sooner, but that other events may take more time to uncover and investigate, and would have a smaller impact than the shutdown of Colonial’s pipeline.

Wales said CISA will keep working with lawmakers on the bills regardless of the timeline. “Ultimately, we think that getting the information in is the most important thing, so if we have to work on a timeline other than 24 hours, we will,” he said.

Senate Version of CISA Exercise Bill Introduced: Bipartisan senators yesterday introduced the CISA Cyber Exercise Act, which would direct the agency to continue its work in establishing a National Cyber Exercise Program where it could test responses to cyberattacks. CISA would have to create model exercises for state and local governments and the private sector to use to test their infrastructure. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) sponsored the bill. The House version, from Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.)—advanced as an amendment on the House-passed defense authorization bill (H.R. 4350).

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Tech Policy and Regulation

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Cybersecurity Policy

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The Technology Modernization Fund, launched in 2017, is a pool of money for federal agencies to modernize their information technology systems, both to guard against cyber threats and to offer more services online. The TMF board announced seven grants totaling $311 million at the end of September. It is working on allocating the next awards while signaling to Congress that it still won’t be enough. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com; Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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