Congress passed legislation to fight cyber threats, pushing the measure through by tucking it into a sprawling government funding bill, after earlier failed attempts.
The measure ended up placed into the massive $1.1 trillion spending package that funds the government through next September, tightens visa requirements, and ends a longstanding oil export ban, among other moves.
The “omnibus” funding bill, which easily passed in the Senate, also in the process gave congressional approval to the landmark Cybersecurity Act.
The measure ended up OK’d Dec. 18 with approval from the White House, over objections of privacy activists.
Officials with the House Homeland Security Committee said in a statement the bill would protect America’s private sector and federal networks “which are under continuous threat from foreign hackers and cyber terrorists.”
Separate versions of the bill ended up approved earlier this year by the Senate and House of Representatives.
“This streamlines the federal government’s ability to more effectively identify and thwart cyber-attacks,” said Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the homeland security panel.
President Barack Obama would get a victory with the approval after several years of seeking legislation to boost cyber security. Previous efforts ended up bogged down by opposition from activists who feared it would result in excessive government intrusion, and conservatives who argue it would create a new bureaucracy.
House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes said the measure was “vital for protecting America’s digital networks,” and added it was part of a broader effort “giving our intelligence community the tools it needs to identify, disrupt, and defeat threats to the homeland and our infrastructure.”
A key element in the legislation would shield private companies from liability if they report or share information about cyber threats.
The measure would establish the Department of Homeland Security as a “portal” for cyber threat information sharing. It would also authorize “defensive measures” that could disable or counter a cyber security threat.
The action comes amid growing concerns over threats to the critical infrastructure, which includes power grids, water systems, key industrial controls and especially the U.S. financial system, which suffered through numerous cyber attacks in recent months.