By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
Every week, millions of computer networks come under attack by hackers, cyber criminals and hostile foreign nations. These networks include banks and retail outlets, nuclear power plants and dams, even critical military hubs.
The cost to consumers, companies and the government reaches into the billions of dollars, and the attacks are increasing in severity.
This threat extends into core sectors of our society. Theft of personal and financial information from retailers is all too common. Up to 70 million Target customers had their personal information stolen last year. Denial-of-service attacks, where hackers essentially disable websites, have made it difficult for millions of Americans to bank online.
Beyond the threat to consumers, intellectual property pilfered from innovative American companies is estimated to cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars. And hostile foreign governments routinely use cyberspace to steal sensitive national security information.
The potential targets are countless, the potential damage immense. Nearly everything in our society is linked to computers, from GPS satellites to the electricity grid to Wall Street.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have listened for several years as the intelligence community has described the growing threat. It is past time for Congress to take meaningful action to address this danger.
To counter this peril, private sector companies need clear authority to take defensive actions on their own networks, and the private sector and government must be allowed to share information about cyber attacks to develop the best methods to counter them.
Over the past year I have worked closely with Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on legislation to address this issue. The committee recently approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act with a strong bipartisan vote.
While critics have focused on concerns of privacy advocates, I believe the 12-3 committee vote represents the broad support this bill will have in the Senate and the country.
It was written in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the executive branch, privacy advocates, the financial industry, tech companies and others. Its evolving text was made public twice in the weeks leading up to committee debate, and changes were made based on suggestions.
Like all substantial legislation, this bill includes compromises. But the privacy protections and incentives for information sharing are balanced and will help us identify and overcome threats.
The bill requires the government to share more information about cyber threats so the private sector can better defend itself, including classified information where possible. It also only allows companies to share information for cybersecurity purposes. It is not an intelligence collection bill and doesn't alter requirements for conducting surveillance.
Furthermore, the government is barred from using information shared with it for any regulatory action or criminal investigations not relating specifically to cybersecurity.
All provisions were drafted with the goal of protecting personal information. All companies that share information are required to remove any irrelevant personal information before sending it. And all information about cyber threats shared with the government is subject to privacy protections and includes strong penalties for abuses. The government's receipt and use of shared information will receive multiple levels of oversight.
Finally, the bill is voluntary. No company is compelled to share any information. Companies that participate are only authorized to look for cyber threats on their own networks and those of their consenting customers.
Just last month, cybersecurity firm Symantec warned about an ongoing campaign against U.S. and European energy companies to sabotage compromised systems. These breaches affect us all.
The Senate Intelligence Committee took an important step by approving this bill. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in the Senate to further improve it.
Dianne Feinstein is California's senior senator and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She wrote this for this newspaper.