US Senate expands Department of Homeland Security powers after data breach

By MoneyTimes

Jul 24, 2015 07:01 PM EDT

Senators from both the Republican and Democrat sides of the US Senate have come together to enact legislation that will enhance the powers of the US Department of Homeland Security in order to protect government Internet addresses.

According to a report from The Examiner, the legislation, which is called the FISMA Reform Act, seeks to update the 12-year-old Federal Information Systems Management Act (FISMA) and formalize the role of the Department of Homeland Security in securing government websites. The bill was introduced in response to several recent large-scale data breaches, particularly those targeting the Office of Personnel Management. The cyber attacks, purported to be linked to China, have put at risk the personal data of more than 22 million Americans. Katherine Archuleta, the OPM's chief, resigned earlier this month.

The bill is being sponsored through the Senate by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and Democrat Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Other sponsors of the bill include Republicans Dan Coats (IN), and Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Democrats Claire McCaskill (MO) and Barbara Mikulski (MD),Reuters reports.

Once cleared, the FISMA Reform Act aims to overhaul the way Homeland Security and the different agencies under the US government work with each other. Currently, each agency monitors its own network and only requests assistance from the DHS if the need arises.

Under the terms of the FISMA Reform Act, Homeland Security would get the authority to monitor all federal agencies under the .gov domain - even agencies that do not allow DHS access to their networks such as the IRS and the FDA. Homeland Security would also get to conduct risk assessments on all .gov domains without exception, and issue binding directives if the assessment does identify problems.  This will override any and all risk assessments from in-house inspectors General in every federal agency.

The data hacks on government websites have exposed several weaknesses in the US federal information system, such as outdated computer systems, unencrypted sensitive data, among a host of others. "In the wake of the OPM breach, I think we can all agree that more needs to be done to strengthen cybersecurity and coordinate our efforts. If we can't get it economy-wide, at least, at least for the federal government," Senator Warner said.

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