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House OKs Computer Security Bill

From Wired News
November 13, 2002

By Michael Grebb

Because the Senate passed a virtually identical bill in February, the measure will go straight to the White House, which is expected to sign it into law "post haste," said House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, the House bill's chief sponsor.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the bill's backers said cybersecurity funding is now inadequate, especially if terrorists were to time cyberattacks with physical attacks similar to those carried out on Sept. 11, 2001. The result could cripple vital response services, most of which rely on computer networks.

"We will have a synergistic outcome with catastrophic results," said Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who co-sponsored the bill.

Bill Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, said the United States only graduates about seven computer security Ph.D.s per year.

"This bill takes on this problem staight up," he said.

Of course, Boehlert acknowledged that it will take years before money from the funding will produce widespread results.

"It probably won't be next week," said Boehlert. "But it will be several years. We're embarking on a journey that's going to take a number of years and that may never end."

If signed into law, the legislation would direct the National Science Foundation to create new cybersecurity research centers, undergraduate program grants, community college grants and fellowships. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, meanwhile, would fund academic-industry partnerships and other research incentives.

Of course, the money authorized by the bill still must be approved through the Congressional budget process. Boehlert said he will be "unyielding" in lobbying other members for the money, "but there are no guarantees on anything yet."

The money would be a massive windfall for colleges and universities nationwide.

"The buzz is clearly there," said Boehlert, noting that his staff has already received dozens of inquiries from colleges and universities eager to apply for the funds.

The new funds will create "waterfall effects" as schools chase grants, said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "Academics follow the money," he added.

Industry reaction to the bill's passage was positive.

"The federal government is awakening to the fact that national security depends, in part, on computer and software security," said Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer of open-source technology provider Red Hat.

"Ultimately, they are trying to ensure that the billions they spend on computer software and systems won't be wasted on systems that cannot be secured because they were architected in the dark by programmers who did not have a clue about security," he said.

At the press conference, Wulf put it more bluntly. "These servers run the banking system, financial system, air-traffic control system, and on and on," he said. "If they are disrupted for even a short period of time, it could be devastating for this country."

The bill was also co-sponsored by Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).


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