The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the proposed federal law passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives that would promote the sharing of cyber threat information between private business and government, has generated plenty of outrage among privacy advocates.
But there are few complaints so far from the enterprise sector, since it would resolve complaints those firms have had for years about liability risks and legal hurdles of sharing cyberthreat information with each other and with the government.
More than two dozen companies and trade groups including Facebook, AT&T, TechAmerica, Boeing, IBM, Oracle, Symantec, CTIA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support CISPA.
The one defector from that group over the weekend was Microsoft. The software giant withdrew its support in a statement saying it would oppose any law that would not allow it, "to honor the privacy and security promises we make to our customers."
But Torsten George, vice president worldwide marketing and products for risk management vendor Agiliance, says CISPA already addresses that concern. He calls it "probably the least intrusive" for enterprises of the various legislative proposals pending regarding information sharing on cyberthreats.
"It's a voluntary system," he says. "It's really up to the enterprise to participate or not. We've been waiting for many years for better cooperation between business and government."
The bills favored by the Obama administration and Democratic Senate leaders, he says, are more radical. "All commercial organizations that are considered part of the nation's critical infrastructure would be mandated to submit any kind of cyberthreat information to the government," George says. "And they would be audited on that."
George contends that CISPA, or something very much like it, is desperately needed to counter threats to enterprises and to U.S. citizens in general.
"This [possibility of cyber attacks] is more important than planes flying into the Twin Towers," he says. "It is the most important threat the country is facing."
"The hackers are sitting across the table and laughing at [the lack of cooperation between]government and the commercial space," George says. "You see hackers cooperating at all levels. It's done openly and daily, while it is at the infant stage (in the U.S.) between business and government. Something has to happen where information needs to be shared."
But more than than 50 security experts, university professors and entrepreneurs say CISPA is not the way to do it. The group sent an open letter to Congress last week opposing it.
"We take security very seriously, but we fervently believe that strong computer and network security does not require Internet users to sacrifice their privacy and civil liberties," the group said in the letter published on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, columnist and author, is the first signature on the letter. He says he believes the reason for a lack of opposition to CISPA from private companies is that, "most businesses don't care."
CISPA is far from a done deal, even after its passage on a strong bipartisan vote of 248-168, with 42 Democrats joining 206 Republicans.
Besides the opposition of privacy and civil liberties groups, the Senate will be taking up its own bill -- the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 -- and the Office of Management and Budget has recommended that President Obama veto CISPA if it reaches his desk in its current form.
In response, House leaders crafted an amendment that limits the government's use of threat information to five specific purposes: cybersecurity; investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; protection of individuals from death or serious bodily harm; protection of minors from child pornography; and the protection of national security.
But opponents say those changes do not address their main objection to CISPA -- that employees' personal information shared by companies with the government could be passed to the National Security Agency or the Defense Department. And CISPA would insulate private firms from any liability from customer lawsuits if the information on cyberthreats was shared in "good faith."
Those critics, along with the White House and a coalition of liberal and conservative groups, want information from the private sector to be given to the civilian Department of Homeland Security, not military agencies like NSA or DoD.
George still thinks the privacy advocates are going overboard. "People reveal more about themselves on Facebook than anything the government would be interested in," he says. More importantly, he argues, the risks to enterprises and to citizens in general from cyber attacks are much greater than the threat of lost privacy.
"The power grid is under daily attack," he says, and if an attack succeeds, "it could have a major impact."