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Cybersecurity sharing act tucked into budget, despite privacy concerns

Civil liberties groups raised concerns about a federal cyber act Congress passed Friday, but its passage would help the country make progress against hackers, a top security expert told the Tribune-Review.

Leaders in the House and Senate attached the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act onto a larger omnibus spending bill that both houses passed this week and that President Obama is expected to sign into law.

The act creates a voluntary cybersecurity sharing process allowing the public and private sectors to share information on cyber threats and attacks with the federal Department of Homeland Security without legal liability issues and while protecting private information. Companies would be required to review and remove any personally identifiable information unrelated to cyber threats before sharing information with the government.

“It’s a good step forward, and the only progress we may see out of this Congress,” said James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

“Until we see how it’s implemented, we can’t assess the effect. The idea was to remove obstacles, which is good if people intend to move.”

Some industry groups, such as banking, have groups for sharing information about online threats, but the bill seeks to increase sharing, especially with government agencies, said David Ries, a member at Clark Hill PLC, Downtown.

The key, he said, is “striking a balance between information the federal government really needs for a coordinating role and security, and not giving them too much that identifies unnecessary private details or business information.”

The bill is “dangerous” for giving intelligence agencies too much authority, and it does not go far enough to address existing problems such as unencrypted files, out-of-date software and user errors, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit that advocates for Internet privacy.

“CISA — and its amendments — do not even begin to address these serious problems,” the foundation said in a statement. “Instead, they mandate information sharing with the intelligence community, creating even more cyberspying.”

Demands for cybersecurity legislation have arisen as a result of concerns over cyber attacks from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea and cyber thieves stealing trade secrets of American companies.

Hackers have stolen personal data and information in hacks on Target and health insurer Anthem, and temporarily delayed release of a Sony Pictures comedy movie that North Korea deemed offensive.

Even the federal Office of Personnel Management, the State Department and the White House have come under cyber attack.

Andrew Conte is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Contact him at [email protected] or 412-320-7835.


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