House Passes Bill To Improve Cyber Security Cooperation With Ukraine

The House passed a bill late Wednesday to improve cyber security cooperation with Ukraine, after the bill’s sponsor urged the White House to consider the international partnership as a critical step for assessing future election and infrastructure cyber threats.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bipartisan Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act, which calls on the State Department to increase cyber support for Ukraine while leveraging new information sharing opportunities regarding previous cyber attacks perpetrated by Russia.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).

The bill, H.R.1997, was sponsored by Reps, Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and passed by a vote of 404-3. The no votes came from Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)

“Today, the House took a strong step forward in the ongoing fight to counter Russia’s intensifying cyber-aggression by passing my legislation. Over the last few years, Russia has been using Ukraine as a field test for cyber attacks that endanger the national security of our great ally Ukraine, its regional neighbors, and the United States. H.R. 1997 sends a strong signal to Russia and all those who threaten the cybersecurity of America and its allies that we are ready and able to protect ourselves against this escalating threat,” Boyle said in statement following the bill’s passage.

Boyle appeared at an event earlier on Wednesday and discussed his bill’s role for furthering the State Department’s effort to improve the cyber defenses of an international partner, while having the chance to gather greater insight on the latest cyber threats from Ukraine’s neighbor Russia.

Ukraine has faced election hacking campaigns directed by the Russians, as well as attacks on its electrical grid in 2015 and 2016. Boyle said his bill offers a chance to secure cooperation on mitigating future attacks ahead of the U.S. 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections, as well as Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary elections.

“We know that Vladimir Putin started it off in this space about a decade ago. Ukraine more than any other country has been the recipient of these attacks, and they continue. What has been tried and succeeded in Ukraine, we will see here in the United States,” Boyle said at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security (CCHS) event. “We will look at this bill as the beginning of a formalized mechanism for cooperation between [Ukraine], which is on the frontlines of the attacks on its cyber security, and the United States.”

Boyle’s bill tells the State Department to provide increased resources to Ukraine, including advanced network protection for government and critical infrastructure systems, as well as offering support to reduce reliance on Russian technology.

Rob Strayer, the State Department’s top cyber official, was also at Wednesday’s CCHS event and offered his support for securing further cooperation with Ukraine.  

“The U.S. and Ukraine cyber relationship is growing so quickly, and I think it can be a model for the relationships we can build in other places around the world,” said Strayer. “We need to figure out how to address those very varied and invasive ways that digital technology is starting to create new challenges that we have not seen before. I think Ukraine knows this better than anybody. They’ve faced a wide-range of cyber incidents in the last few years.”

Boyle expressed concern Wednesday that Strayer’s point of view is not shared with the rest of the current administration, especially when it comes to calling on Ukraine as a critical partner to thwarting future Russian cyber threats.

“I think the administration’s rather schizophrenic when it comes to this issue. You have a number of career folks in the State Department and the Defense Department who get it, who understand how important this is. I have serious questions about the commitment of our commander in chief when it comes to this area,” Boyle said. “It would be wonderful if he would speak more about the importance of defending Ukraine’s freedom, or if I would just hear it once that would be welcome.

The administration has a role to play in facilitating increased cooperation with Ukraine, regardless of whether a bill is in place, according to Boyle.

State Department officials would also be tasked with helping Ukraine expand its information sharing capacity and deliver reports on the status of cyber security cooperation initiatives with the U.S.

The legislation has received bipartisan interest in the Senate from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), according to Boyle.

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