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Senate approves bill to boost cyber assistance for federal agencies, private sector

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation intended to boost the federal government’s ability to respond to and assist agencies and private sector companies in the event of debilitating cyber incidents. 

The DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act would require that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintain permanent “teams” that could be deployed to assist in cases of cyberattacks or in order to identify vulnerabilities that could allow for a cyberattack to take place. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brought the bill up for unanimous consent on Tuesday, with the legislation passing shortly after. 

The House already passed its version in June, sponsored by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and John Ratcliffe (R-Texas). 

The Senate version of the bill was introduced in February and is sponsored by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

The legislation had also previously been approved by the House during the 115th Congress, but failed to get a vote in the Senate. 

The bill was recently touted by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a way to respond to a rash of ransomware attacks that have hit government entities and other groups nationwide over the past few months. These attacks involve malicious actors locking a system and demanding a ransom before giving the user access again. 

“It’s clear that our state is under siege from these attacks, and we must do more to ward them off,” Schumer said at an event on Monday. “That’s why today I’m pushing a two-pronged effort to fight back against these cyber crooks by urging Congress to quickly pass the bipartisan DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Team Act and by calling on the FBI to quickly and thoroughly investigate the incidents that have plagued New York and then brief Congress.”

Hassan tweeted Wednesday that “with cyberattacks on the rise, we must strengthen our cybersecurity,” and praised the bill advancing closer to being signed into law.

The Senate approved the bill by voice vote with a substitute amendment from Hassan included, meaning the House must approve the changed legislation before it can be sent to President Trump’s desk for signature.

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