Security Bytes

Apr 27 2012   5:25PM GMT

CISPA intelligence information sharing bill passes House, headed to Senate

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt


The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), clears security vendors of any liability for sharing customer attack data with the government.

A new cybersecurity bill designed to foster threat intelligence information sharing between the public and private sectors cleared its first major legislative hurdle this week, gaining passage from the House of Representatives. If the bill makes it into law, it would clear security vendors of any legal ramifications in sharing their customer data with federal officials. That’s right: Symantec or any “certified” security vendor would be able to report your company’s infections directly with the feds.

If the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which is being opposed by the White House, privacy advocates and many democrats, passes the Senate in a narrow vote, political observers say it is likely to be vetoed by the president. The bill is being supported by a variety of tech companies, including Symantec, Facebook, Oracle and Microsoft.

The bill enables attack and threat information sharing on a voluntary basis between the federal government and technology, manufacturers and other businesses.  It’s a fascinating piece of legislation because under the voluntary program that the bill creates, it essentially gives security vendors the ability to share specific threat data collected from their customers with federal authorities – data that is not anonymous. The goal is to protect networks against attack, thereby giving the government some oversight into protecting critical infrastructure facilities that are under ownership by some private-sector companies. The controversial bill is being compared to Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) by privacy advocates who say that the legislation is too general and offers few safeguards protecting civil liberties.

CISPA amends the National Security Act and requires the director of national intelligence to establish procedures to allow intelligence community elements to share cyberthreat intelligence with private-sector entities and encourage information sharing – a common theme from the Feds at annual security conferences.

The bill would require procedures to ensure threat intelligence is shared only with “certified entities or a person with an appropriate security clearance.” It doesn’t delineate how an organization or individual becomes “certified.” But certification is needed, according to the legislation, to prevent unauthorized disclosure. Certification would be provided to “entities or officers or employees of such entities.”

Security companies, noted as “cybersecurity providers” are authorized under the proposed legislation to use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyberthreat information from their customers and share that data with the federal government. The data would not be sanitized, giving the federal government unprecedented visibility into attacks and their specific targets. Many security providers already collect data on their customers and disseminate the data in threat intelligence reports, but the bill would give federal officials more visibility into attacks on specific private sector firms, such as utilities, chemical rendering companies, manufacturers and other organizations deemed essential to the protection of national security.

There is a provision in the bill “encouraging” the private sector to anonymize or minimize the cyberthreat information it voluntarily shares with others, including the government.

The bill is being supported by Symantec primarily because it takes out the company’s legal liability in sharing the data with the government. In a letter of support from Symantec, Cheri F. McGuire, vice president of global government affairs and cybersecurity policy, praised the goal of the bill (.pdf).

“In order for information sharing to be effective, information must be shared in a timely manner, with the right people or organizations, and with the understanding that so long as an entity shares information in good faith, it will not be faced with legal liability,” McGuire said. “This bi-partisan legislation exemplifies a solid understanding of the shortfalls in the current information-sharing environment, and provides common sense solutions to improve bi-directional, real time information sharing to mitigate cyberthreats.”

The Internet Security Alliance, an industry group that represents VeriSign, Ratheon and others, submitted a similar letter supporting the bill (.pdf).

Some protections were put into the bill. For example, it prevents security firms from being sued over threat data they share with the government. It says the threat data cannot be used by the federal government for a regulatory purpose.  It also prohibits the federal government from searching the information for any other purpose than for the protection of U.S. national security.

It also directs the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to submit an annual report on how the threat data is being used and if any changes are needed to protect privacy and civil liberties concerns.

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