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Cybersecurity: Does Senate deal on legislation compromise defenses?

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But others said the compromise Cybersecurity Act – which is aimed at wooing votes away from an all-volunteer cybersecurity bill offered by Sen. John McCain – is now too weak to truly protect the nation's key computer networks, because it's voluntary.

"The best thing you can say about this new bill is that it doesn't do much harm – but it also doesn't make things any better," says James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "There are no new authorities and everything in the bill could already be done under an executive order."

The power grid near Albuquerque, N.M., provides power to Sandia National laboratory, which overseas nuclear weapons research, and Kirkland Air Force Base, which has advanced weapons. Both would go dark without the grid – as would the bulk of US military bases – making the grid a prime target. Will cybersecurity measures for such areas be voluntary or mandatory, Mr. Lewis wonders?

The only chance now to give the bill teeth, he says, is to amend it when it reaches the Senate floor to make it stronger, and add some mandates. But there will also be a big countervailing push to further dilute the compromise bill, he acknowledges.

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