Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., is confident the Senate will consider his controversial cybersecurity bill within the next month. Whether he has garnered enough support among divided lawmakers is another issue.
“I’m as confident as I can be that this will come up no later than July,” Lieberman told reporters at one of two cyber briefings by the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. Lieberman echoed intentions by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring cyber legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible.
The House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), HR 3523, in April, but Lieberman said his bill is the better bill. In a statement Wednesday he urged the Senate to pass the bill and iron out differences with the House.
Under Lieberman’s 2012 Cybersecurity Act, certain companies operating the nation’s electric grid, water supply and other critical systems would have to meet cybersecurity standards approved and enforced by DHS and share with the government all instances when they come under cyber attack.
But Congress is at odds about DHS regulating the security of some privately owned networks and whether the department is capable of taking on that role. The briefing on Capitol Hill was one of several that Lieberman hopes will change people’s perception of DHS and highlight its cyber defense capabilities.
“I want people to be confident that the folks at the department can handle it,” he said.
Mark Weatherford, DHS’ deputy under secretary for cybersecurity, said the department has the capacity and cybersecurity expertise in house as well as partnerships with the Defense Department and National Security Agency. He also refuted claims that DHS’ latest intrusion detection system, Einstein 3, may not be made available to agencies. DHS is considering how to deploy the system, he said.
Officials from DHS’ United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team demonstrated how easily hackers can gain control of a person’s computer through spear phishing — targeted emails crafted to convince an individual to divulge information or open malicious files.
The officials simulated how hackers might gather personal information from social networking sites to design a seemingly credible email. They planted malicious code into an email attachment using an open software tool called BackTrack5. By opening the corrupt file, victims can give attackers complete access to their computer, web camera, documents and other data.
The tool was created for security testing purposes but can also be used to launch intentional attacks.
Spear phishing is the most common form of cyber attacks used against personal computers and critical cyber infrastructure, Lieberman said. He added that his bill would raise the defenses against these types of attacks through information sharing and security requirements. For example, the bill would likely require companies to create more complex passwords.
“Some just have the word password,” he said.
Richard Skinner, inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, is calling it quits after a 42-year government career.
In a letter to President Obama released late this afternoon, Skinner said he will retire effective March 1. “I believe the time has come for me to give my full-time attention to my family and personal endeavors,” he wrote.
Skinner became the department’s inspector general in July 2005 after two years as its deputy IG. Since 1969, he has worked in IG positions across the government, including the Agriculture, Commerce and Justice Departments, according to a news release. His service at the Federal Emergency Management Agency was recognized by the President’s Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained superior accomplishment in management of programs of the United States government, the release said.
Skinner has been “a valuable asset” to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel’s top Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, said in a statement.
She singled out Skinner’s work in uncovering “outrageous fraud and improper payments” in FEMA aid programs after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“I am thankful for his aggressive approach to combating waste, fraud and abuse in the department,” Collins said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Tuesday asked the Government Accountability Office to start looking into possible waste, fraud and abuse in federal workers’ compensation benefits.
The federal government pays benefits to about 49,000 federal employees under the Federal Employee Compensation Act so injured workers can pay their bills while they recuperate. But Collins suspects many are gaming the system and continuing to receive benefits long after they should have retired or returned to work.
Collins began beating the drum about this issue at a hearing last month, when she said the U.S. Postal Service is paying workers’ comp to 132 employees who were at least 90 years old — decades after they should have retired. Three of those employees still getting benefits are 98 years old. In all, 1,000 Postal Service employees over 80 are getting workers’ comp benefits, Collins said. And it’s not just a Postal Service problem — some federal employees at other agencies collect benefits into their 100s, she said.
“I am increasingly concerned that individuals with no intention of returning to work continue to receive these benefits,” Collins said in a statement. “If recipients are gaming this crucial benefit at taxpayers’ expense, they must be exposed and the underlying program must be reformed.”
Collins asked GAO to audit FECA and find out how long people stay on the program, how many recipients receive benefits well past retirement age, and how the program compares to state workers comp plans. She also asked GAO to check workers’ comp records against the government’s list of deceased employees and payroll to find anyone who may be “double dipping,” or getting benefits and a paycheck at the same time, or who may still be receiving benefits after death.
A fed would receive far more money through workers’ comp than actually retiring, Collins said, which would provide quite an incentive to keep drawing FECA in one’s twilight years. And FECA doesn’t have any caps on how much benefits one can draw, or other cut-off periods, which Collins said makes it especially susceptible to fraud.
Congressional hearings on the U.S. Postal Service usually fall somewhat short of spine-tingling, but here’s a fascinating tidbit from this morning’s session before a Senate subcommittee: There are 132 postal workers aged 90 or older currently receiving workers’ compensation, three of whom are 98. That’s according to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“These individuals should be switched to the retirement system; they’re never going to return to work over age 90,” Collins said at the hearing by the panel’s federal financial management subcommittee.
According to Collins, employees on workers’ comp with dependents receive 75 percent of their wages, tax-fee. For comparison purposes, a postal retiree in the Civil Service Retirement System with at least 30 years service would receive 56.25 percent of salary, according to Collins.
But USPS spokesman Gerry McKiernan said later that some of those 132 people may be survivors of postal workers. The workers’ comp policy is not unique to the Postal Service, he added, but government-wide.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is keeping pressure on the FBI to reform in the wake of a cheating scandal. Collins sent FBI Director Bob Mueller a letter Oct. 7 that said he should immediately punish those who cheated on an important exam on domestic investigations rules and privacy, and force any cheater who wasn’t fired to retake the exam.
Collins also wants the FBI to conduct a department-wide review to find out if there were any other cheaters that weren’t identified by an inspector general investigation. Mueller last month said disciplinary actions are being taken against cheaters and promised to follow up on any other allegations of misconduct
Justice IG Glenn Fine released a report Sept. 27 that found dozens to hundreds of FBI agents and other employees — including the former assistant director in charge of the Washington field office and two of his special agents in charge — cheated on the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) exam. Some allegedly improperly collaborated on the test, others allegedly shared answer sheets, and others may have hacked into the FBI’s computers to obtain answers.
Collins said the scandal indicates the FBI doesn’t take the DIOG seriously:
If you haven’t seen it yet: We reported on Friday that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., proposed allowing the Postal Service to “pilot” 5-day mail delivery in a few areas around the country. Polls usually indicate that the public is okay with 5-day delivery; Durbin wants to see if those poll numbers hold up when the idea becomes a reality.
One other item I wanted to highlight from that hearing (at which John Potter, the Postmaster General, was one of the witnesses). Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said several times that she’s worried 5-day delivery will reduce mail volume. At one point, she cited the example of weekly newspaper publishers in Maine. Their papers are usually delivered on Saturdays, so switching to 5-day delivery would cause problems; Collins said many will look for “alternatives to the mail.”
Like what, though? UPS and FedEx don’t deliver on Saturdays, nor would they be cost-effective alternatives to the mail.
5-day delivery will undoubtedly reduce volume, and it will make life more complicated for some businesses that rely on the Postal Service. But many of those businesses have no real alternative, so they can’t exactly stop using the mail.