“Congress, the intelligence community and private sector must work together to stop the cyber 9/11 we know will happen if we don’t act now,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) warned in her keynote address honoring the 10th anniversary of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, predicted mark-up of a bill in committee as early as this week.

Her legislative recommendations: to compel public-private information sharing of cyber threats; to require companies to disclose to consumers security breaches resulting from cyber attacks; and to expand national cyber capabilities and workforce, especially at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Liability protections for companies that share information with government agencies has been a contentious issue among the public in the past.  However, Collins acknowledged that, while controversial, some sharing is necessary to prevent attacks.  She also recommended the National Security Agency store meta-data, not private telecom companies.

nobody’s perfect – not even the nsa

Collins criticized the intelligence community’s failure to acknowledge its on-going cyber vulnerabilities.

The disconnected nature of intelligence community has been an impediment to counterterrorism efforts.  As an example, she cited that Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s name was listed in both National Counterterrorism Center and Transportation Security Administration databases, but due to a slight spelling inconsistency he was not flagged.  Simple technology and community coordination could have prevented this.

Former Director of National Intelligence Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, who also spoke at the event, criticized current “antitrust laws, competitive advantage concerns and liability issues [that] all thwart effective info sharing among private sector companies.”

McConnell suggested creating a single department dedicated to cyber security, and Dr. Troy E. Meink, Assistant Director of National Intelligence seconded the proposal, saying he expected creation of a cyber-center á la the National Counterterrorism Center and National Counterproliferation Center.

Cyber jobs abound

All this means a blooming job market for cyber experts with security clearances.

Last year, Congresses passed several bills authorizing new positions for cyber experts at DHS, and directing the agency to enhance the capacity, recruitment, and retention of its cybersecurity workforce.

Additionally, Congress created the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, a “24×7 cyber situational awareness, incident response, and management center” at the Department of Homeland Security.

In its most recent DHS funding bill, Congress appropriated just over $140 million for the agency to procure continuous monitoring and diagnostics software “to address escalating and rapidly evolving threats to information security.”

Americans can expect even more in the way of federal cybersecurity infrastructure in weeks to come, according to Sen. Collins.

“Right now, our number-one priority is passage of a cyber-security bill.”

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