WASHINGTON – A new threat of cyberattack from an “unusual source” is reigniting congressional interest in hardening U.S. online defenses, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said Thursday.
The House of Representatives passed, with bipartisan support, a bill to promote sharing of information on cyberattacks earlier this year. But the Senate effort to craft cyber legislation is stalled mostly along party lines, and the Obama administration is weighing an executive order to protect the country from attempts to steal secrets online, scramble computer networks or destroy critical infrastructure.
The new threat could break the deadlock and spark legislation in the upcoming lame-duck session this fall, said Rogers, a Michigan Republican, during a cybersecurity event Thursday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Rogers said senators recently saw a briefing about “what appears to be a new level of threat that would target networks here from an unusual – I have to be careful here – an unusual source that has some very real consequences if we are not able to deal with it.”
Rogers joked he couldn’t be more specific about the source of the threat because he doesn’t look good in orange prison garb. But he seemed to indicate it was from a nation not previously identified as a serious threat.
“You have other nation-states who are developing just capabilities to do attacks,” he said. “And so you can just imagine that our concern is nation-states who are gaining capability to do just that, beyond the normal group of individuals that we often talk about.”
Russia and China are often named as the prime cyberthreats to the United States, and other nations across Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere are known to be developing cyber capabilities.
Rogers urged senators to pass the equivalent of the House’s bill, which allows government agencies to share information on cyberthreats with private companies. Senate Republicans proposed a similar package, and in August filibustered a bill backed by Democrats that went farther, giving the federal government authority not only to share information, but to help protect private networks that control critical infrastructure.
“We think there might be one last shot here … to actually get this thing sparked back to life so that we can get at least something,” Rogers said. “That threat is coming. We know it’s coming.”