Obama to Simulate Cyber Attack on New York Power to Lobby Senate

AT&T and Comcast Favor Incentives Over Cybersecurity Rules
Recent computer network attacks have increased concern that critical networks such as U.S. banks, power grids, and telecommunications systems may be vulnerable to computer disruptions that could cause loss of life or inflict widespread economic damage. Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The Obama administration will simulate a cyber attack crippling New York City’s electric supply during a summer heat wave to drum up support for cybersecurity legislation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and Justice Department are among agencies in Washington involved today in a Senate briefing on the New York scenario, said Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, are taking part.

Internet-service providers including AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. opposed new regulations protecting computer networks from hacker attacks at a House hearing today. The companies said they prefer voluntary sharing of information about cyber threats.

The demonstration is “intended to provide all senators with an appreciation for new legislative authorities that would help the U.S. government prevent and more quickly respond to cyber attacks,” said Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, in an e-mail today.

The Obama administration is backing a Senate bill introduced Feb. 14 by Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, that directs the Homeland Security Department to set rules for companies deemed critical to U.S. national and economic security to improve their computer defenses.

A competing bill from eight Republicans including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would avoid new regulations while promoting information-sharing through incentives such as protection from lawsuits.

Critical Networks

U.S. lawmakers are debating cybersecurity legislation following assaults last year on companies including New York-based Citigroup Inc., the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense company.

The attacks have increased concern that critical networks such as U.S. banks, power grids, and telecommunications systems may be vulnerable to hacking or viruses that may cause loss of life or inflict widespread economic damage.

Senior administration officials coordinated by the White House will give the Senate a classified briefing on a “hypothetical cyber attack against United States critical infrastructure networks,” Hayden said, without providing details of the exercise.

‘Stifling Effect’

Government-imposed rules could impede innovation, Internet-service providers said in testimony to a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing today.

“Such requirements could have an unintended stifling effect on making real cybersecurity improvements,” Edward Amoroso, chief security officer for Dallas-based AT&T, said in testimony at the hearing. “Cyber adversaries are dynamic and increasingly sophisticated, and do not operate under a laboriously defined set of rules or processes.”

AT&T is the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier. Philadelphia-based Comcast, the leading U.S. cable provider, and Monroe, Louisiana-based CenturyLink Inc. expressed similar views in their prepared testimony.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said he wants to bring the Lieberman bill to the chamber’s floor for a vote as soon as possible, though he hasn’t given a date. Rockefeller is among co-sponsors of the measure.

The Lieberman bill is S. 2105 and the McCain bill is S. 2151.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE