“It is essential that we take active steps to protect our public health from these bad actors.” – Marsha Blackburn
The Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act was introduced on Tuesday by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) with the goal of authorizing the President to “take swift action and add sanctions to countries trying to disrupt or hack COVID-19 research.”
This bill is the Senate companion to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in July by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
In May, Senators Tillis, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs regarding a notice issued by their agencies alerting American companies and research institutions about attempted attacks by hackers affiliated with the Chinese government.
Other COVID-19 research-related hacking attempts have been made in recent months by Iran and Russia. In a press release, Tillis and Blackburn said that these efforts to steal U.S. intellectual property that is key to pandemic recovery represent a national security threat.
“Congress must give the President the tools to combat these bad actors, and this legislation will allow the Administration to identify and target those who work to steal research on a COVID-19 vaccine,” Tillis said.
Blackburn added: “Countries like China, Russia and Iran have proven themselves untrustworthy when it comes to collaborating on research efforts, and have opted instead to hack into American vaccine operations. It is essential that we take active steps to protect our public health from these bad actors.”
Specifically, the Act would:
– Authorize sanctions that would specifically target a foreign person who directly or indirectly attempted to disrupt or hurt the United States through cybersecurity actions on networks. This includes individuals who were directed by foreign leaders to cause a cyber-attack.
– Give the President authority to prohibit all property transactions by the foreign individual, including property coming into the United States or already in the United States, but excludes goods.
– Allow the President to prohibit individuals engaging in cyber-attacks from traveling to the United States or revoke the individual’s visa if they are in the country.
– Within 180 days, the Secretary of State in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence will be required to issue a report to Congress detailing the extent of known cyber-enabled activities or attempted cyber-enabled activities by foreign persons related to the 2019 novel coronavirus and whether such activities qualify for the imposition of sanctions.
The bill comes days after Tillis announced he tested positive for COVID-19, along with a number of other members of the GOP. He is currently self-isolating at home for 10 days.