U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro addresses the crowd before introducing his brother Julián. Photo by Scott Ball.
U.S. Rep Joaquín Castro addresses the crowd before introducing his brother. Photo by Scott Ball.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation aimed at strengthening America’s cyber defenses on Monday. The new bill would provide local jurisdictions, counties, states and the private sector specialized cybersecurity-related training, exercises and technical assistance to help combat cyber crime.

HR 4743, known as the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act of 2016, passed by a bipartisan vote of 394 to 3. It now goes on to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

“Every day, our retailers, banks, military installations, government agencies, and everyday American citizens all face a growing number of potentially debilitating cyber threats,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-TX), who sponsored the bill. “This bill allows the Department of Homeland Security to collaborate with experts outside of the government to improve state and local cyber preparedness.”

The National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary to establish the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium (NCPC) within DHS.

This bill directs DHS to develop technical assistance and training programs aimed at helping state and local governments, as well as entities in the private sector respond to cyber attacks. The collaboration between the federal government and designated universities provides state and local first responders specialized cybersecurity resources not readily available at the local level or within the private sector.

The consortium – composed of five partner universities and led by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) – would address unique issues related to cybersecurity in the private sector and at the state and local level. NCPC would be the lead entity within DHS for cybersecurity training and technical assistance for states and local first responders and officials, as well as private sector entities like utilities.

While other consortia have been created to help states and local jurisdictions deal with responding to conventional, chemical, nuclear and biological attacks, a consortium specifically designed to provide states and local authorities cyber security resources and training did not exist.

The National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium has been created to answer the need for cities, states, and private sector entities to access cyber training and resources for bolstering cyber defenses.

Texas universities play a key role in the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium. The consortium members include The Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA); The Texas Engineering Extension Service in the Texas A & M University system; University of Memphis; The Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) in the University of Arkansas System; and Norwich University.

“Communities across our nation can benefit from San Antonio’s cutting-edge cybersecurity work,” Castro said. “It’s critical that localities understand the impact cyber attacks could have on their ability to function, and are prepared to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from harmful cyber incidents.”

The threat of cyber attacks on critical technical infrastructure in many communities across the nation is increasing. Computers and servers in the United States are the most aggressively targeted information systems in the world. With so much critical infrastructure accessible via computer networks and information systems, these critical systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attack.

The NCPC would work to provide the private sector and state and local communities with the tools they need to anticipate and recover from cyber attacks as they would in any other disaster or emergency situation. If approved by the Senate, the NCPC would evaluate communities’ cybersecurity posture and provide recommendations on how to address cyber deficiencies.

“This legislation allows consortiums like UTSA’s to share their cyber expertise with communities across our nation,” stated Castro in a press release. “Increased collaboration will strengthen our defenses and keep us one step ahead of cyber attackers. I’m hopeful the Senate will follow the House’s lead, pass this bill, and protect the American people from a growing threat to their safety.”


Top image: U.S. Rep Joaquín Castro addresses the crowd during a campaign rally last year. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...