Mar 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress sounds digital alarm bells over cybersecurity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Seeking to protect veterans from cyberattacks and to teach kids about disinformation, lawmakers are introducing legislation to address heightened homeland security concerns after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Why it matters: Since the start of the war, much of the attention has been on how to supply humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. Now, lawmakers are thinking about nonmilitary attacks Russia could unleash on the United States.

Driving the news: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have introduced a bipartisan bill to bolster cybersecurity at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • It would require the secretary of Veterans Affairs to obtain an independent cybersecurity assessment of VA information systems and submit to Congress a plan to address weaknesses found in the assessment.
  • Companion legislation in the House will be introduced by Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.), chairman of the Technology Modernization subcommittee on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

To help Americans recognize Russian disinformation, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced legislation that would establish a commission to support information and media literacy, as well as promote disinformation education.

  • "The most immediate concern is the Russian disinformation surrounding Ukraine," Beyer told Axios. "We also know that Russia tried to do the same thing in the 2016 and 2020 elections. So responding to foreign actors is a main driver, but a second main driver is looking at [disinformation around] COVID-19."
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said he's also planning to press social media companies about how they plan to handle Russian disinformation on their platforms.
  • This adds to the pressure from lawmakers about falsehoods ranging from pandemic science to voting fraud.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Ashley Gold: Lawmakers may find something to agree on for cybersecurity efforts.

  • That said, efforts to combat disinformation are likely to get mired in partisan fights, if recent history around debates regarding the coronavirus and election misinformation is any indication.

The big picture: Russia's two-pronged campaign of physical and informational warfare has triggered congressional action.

  • Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Senate approved a package of cybersecurity bills.
  • That included legislation to require mandatory incident reporting from critical infrastructure firms. It passed by unanimous consent two hours before President Biden delivered his State of the Union address.
  • That was a shift for a chamber that stripped the same measures from the annual defense bill less than three months ago.
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