President Donald Trump signed into law the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Act of 2018, thereby establishing the first agency devoted to defending U.S. infrastructure from cyber attacks.
In 2017, security company Symantec revealed that it had discovered evidence that hackers had infiltrated the systems of utility companies in the U.S. and North America. It speculated that Russia was involved. In March 2018, the U.S. officially accused Russia of the attacks. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the attackers started the campaign by targeting employees of the utility companies’ suppliers. Using spear-phishing emails (emails designed to look like they’re from a trusted source) and watering-hole attacks (attacks that involve infecting the sites a user is likely to visit with malware), the hackers gained access to the suppliers’ networks. From there, they could steal suppliers’ credentials to access the utility networks. This, and many other similar attacks around the world, led officials to believe that U.S. infrastructure simply isn’t effectively protected against cyberattacks. In July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said it would introduce new reporting standards that will require utility companies to report any attempt by cybercriminals to attack their systems. This was followed in October by the Department of Energy’s announcement that it would invest a further $28 million in cybersecurity measures to protect critical infrastructure.
On November 16, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act of 2018, after the US House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass legislation designed to reorganise the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) into a new agency and prioritise its mission as the federal lead for cybersecurity. The bipartisan CISA Act, which passed the Senate in October, will herald the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The agency will be tasked with leading the country’s cybersecurity and critical infrastructure security programs, operations, and associated policy, along with carrying out DHS’ responsibilities concerning chemical facility antiterrorism standards.
As it stands currently, the NPPD tackles cybersecurity and critical infrastructure issues through the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C), the National Risk Management Center, and the Office of Infrastructure Protection. Also housed within the directorate is the Federal Protective Service and the Office of Biometric Identity Management. CISA – which aims to streamline the US government’s digital security operations and place cybersecurity front and center on its list of priorities – has been championed by Congressman Michael McCaul, who also serves as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. The Texas Representative previously said the re-alignment would help the government achieve its goal of creating a standalone organization that focuses on cybersecurity and infrastructure security. Issuing a statement Congressman McCaul said: “CISA elevates [the] NPPD to be the lead cybersecurity agency to combat an ever-evolving threat landscape and keep America’s cyber and critical infrastructure secure.” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the vote was a “significant step” to stand up a federal government cybersecurity agency.
“The cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, and we need to ensure we’re properly positioned to defend America’s infrastructure from threats digital and physical,” she stated.
NPPD Under Secretary Chris Krebs added: “The CISA Act passing Congress represents real progress in the national effort to improve our collective efforts in cybersecurity.
“Elevating the cybersecurity mission within the Department of Homeland Security, streamlining our operations, and giving NPPD a name that reflects what it actually does will help better secure the nation’s critical infrastructure and cyber platforms.”
While the passing of the CISA Act through Congress has been roundly welcomed by senior US government officials, reports suggest that things might not be running as smoothly as they could behind the scenes at the Department of Homeland Security. Over recent days the department has been beset by rumours that President Trump is preparing to remove Secretary Nielsen from office, due to her perceived failures surrounding the key issues of immigration and border security.
Members of congress have claimed that government in-fighting continues to hinder US cybersecurity efforts. Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond said that the White House is not providing adequate leadership to help tackle the increasingly sophisticated array of cyber-threats, which last year wiped billions from the global economy.
Our assessment is that by establishing CISA, the U.S. government is showing that it’s doing what it can to prepare for the era of cyber combat. We believe the unanimous passage in the House reflects the seriousness involved and proves that cyber security is a matter beyond partisan politics.