U.S. Senate Passes Cybersecurity Legislation to Protect Infrastructure & Aid Recovery from Ransomware and Other Cyberattacks

The U.S. Senate has passed a new bill – the DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act – that calls for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create dedicated Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams to help private and public sector organizations respond to and recover from cyberattacks.

A similar bill (H.R. 1158) was recently passed by the House of Representatives and both will now be consolidated and will head to President Trump to be signed into law.

The Act authorizes the DHS to create Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams to help organizations recover from cyberattacks and provide assistance to public and private organizations to help them restore infrastructure following a cyberattack such as a ransomware attack. In addition, the Act calls for the teams to proactively identify cyber risks, develop mitigation strategies, and provide guidance to infrastructure owners on how to improve their defences and fortify against ransomware, malware, and other cyber threats.

The Senate bill was proposed by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and was co-sponsored by Senator Charles E. Schumer. Schumer issued a press release announcing the passage of the bill in which he homed in ransomware attacks on schools in Upstate New York.  “It’s critical that we use all available resources to protect New York students from cyber crooks, and enhance and increase our resiliency to these attacks,” said Schumer.

The Act requires the DHS teams to assist public and private entities ‘on request.’ The DHS would send teams to provide technical support and help with incident response. While the teams would be available to all public and private sector organizations, the main focus is to provide assistance to school districts and local government entities, which have been aggressively targeted by cybercriminals in recent months. “Beyond school districts, hackers also regularly target businesses, police departments, hospitals, banks and other institutions that hold a large amount of sensitive, personal information, but may not have the resources to fend off cyberattacks,” explained Schumer. Those entities would be able to call DHS for assistance in recovering from attacks and improving their resiliency to attacks in the future.

Cybersecurity firm Armor has been tracking ransomware attacks on school districts and reported last week that 49 U.S. school districts have experienced ransomware attacks so far in 2019. Those attacks have impacted more than 500 schools. A report from New Zealand-based Emsisoft published this week has revealed 621 government entities, healthcare providers, schools, colleges, and universities were attacked with ransomware in the first 9 months of the year.

One of the most devastating attacks of the year 0occurred in Texas where 22 local government entities were impacted by the same incident. A ransomware attack on the City of Baltimore in May is estimated to have cost the city around $18.2 million in recovery costs. New Bedford in Massachusetts, Lake City and Riviera Beach in Florida, and the City of Atlanta have similarly been attacked with ransomware this year.

“By encouraging the private sector and the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber response teams to work together, this legislation will foster collaboration between the best minds in the field of cybersecurity to help fend off cyber-attacks and protect vital infrastructure,” said Sen. Hassan.

Author: Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of NetSec.news