The coronavirus relief package rolled out by Senate Republicans on Monday includes $53 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to defend coronavirus vaccine development against malicious hackers.
According to a summary of the roughly $1 trillion bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee, the funds for CISA were included in an effort to “remediate vulnerabilities and enhance Federal network security as a result of increased attacks targeting Federal networks for agencies involved in coronavirus vaccine development.”
The $53 million is a marked increase from the $9.1 million given to CISA in the CARES Act stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump in March, reflecting the increase in concerns around criminals stepping up cyberattacks during the pandemic. ADVERTISEMENT
CISA is one of the key federal agencies responsible for defending the nation against cyber threats.
In May, CISA and the FBI put out a joint alert warning that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. groups involved in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The agencies warned that the “potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.”
More recently, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada put out a separate alert warning that a hacking group known to operate as part of Russia’s security services was targeting companies in all three countries involved in COVID-19 vaccine research.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) introduced legislation last week that would impose sanctions on foreign hackers attempting to steal COVID-19 research. Republicans attempted to attach the bill to the House version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, but were blocked by Democrats who objected to the last-minute nature of the addition.
CISA Director Christopher Krebs said last month that he expected “every intelligence service” to target COVID-19 research as the world scrambles to find a way to end the pandemic, adding that it was “a very active space.”
CISA is not the only agency that would get a boost in funding under the proposed Republican stimulus bill, which also designates $2 billion for information technology modernization at the IRS, including cybersecurity upgrades.
The IRS warned in April that it had seen an uptick in hackers targeting tax professionals to steal financial information, and that malicious cyber actors would likely target sensitive financial information during the pandemic.