Sen. Joe Lieberman on why the new cybersecurity bill is more carrot than stick

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) speaks with members of the press at the Capitol on March 20, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama wants a new cybersecurity bill to help prevent online attacks against companies and government bodies. The fear is that a large attack could knock out power, water, cause mayhem.

The president may get his wish. A bill championed by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut could come to a vote in the Senate soon. It offers incentives to companies for meeting security standards. Carrots instead of sticks. Says Lieberman: "In our original bill, we ultimately had those standards be mandatory. If the companies comply, somebody in the government can say you've got to. I thought that was the best approach. That's the sticks. Unfortunately, there are not 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster because the business community was arguing this was more regulation. So, we've kept the bill exactly as it is except taken out the sticks."

But will companies comply if they don't really have to? James Lewis says the incentives aren't enough. Lewis is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He thinks earlier versions of the bill had more teeth. "There was a proposal to let the Secretary of Defense identify specific companies that were vital for national security. Electrical companies, water supply companies. and the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security could say these few places must meet the mandatory standards. For everyone else, it's business as usual. I think that was a good plan. It really limited the scope of the bill to what's crucial for the nation."

Under the current bill, companies will get liability protection if they comply with security standards established by the government. That's big, says Lieberman. "It says to the CEO of every company that's operating critical cyberspace, whoa, if I don't voluntarily follow these standards and God forbid there's an attack, I'm going to be subject to enormous liability, frankly the kind of liability that might bankrupt my company, so I think it's one of those cases where if we build the standards, people will come and follow them."

And Lieberman says he just may have the votes. "For the first time, leaders, Senators who support and oppose our bill came together in one room. We're sitting around the table. It's a real breakthrough."

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It was displayed in sections around Washington, D.C., this week but Microsoft has posted the entire quilt on the web. Zoom out to see the full magnitude of it. Zoom in to individual panels. See how they're decorated, read what they say.

"We miss you Billy Hodges"

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It's beautiful and devastating and a remarkable use of technology.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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