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White House to offer companies cybersecurity incentives

With incentives, the government aims to entice power utilities, water infrastructure, and transportation networks to sign onto its upcoming Cybersecurity Framework.

The White House offers cybersecurity incentives to critical infrastructure companies.

With the goal of avoiding a massive cyberattack on U.S. infrastructure, the White House has proposed a handful of incentives to get power plants, water companies, and transportation networks to join a national cybersecurity program.

"The systems that run our nation's critical infrastructure such as the electric grid, our drinking water, our trains, and other transportation are increasingly networked," the White House wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "As with any networked system, these systems are potentially vulnerable to a wide range of threats, and protecting this critical infrastructure from cyber threats is among our highest security priorities."

Chaired by the Department of Homeland Security, the program incentives offered to companies include cybersecurity insurance, priority consideration for grants, and streamlined regulations. To get these incentives, the critical infrastructure companies must agree to adopt certain tech practices within the government's upcoming Cybersecurity Framework.

These proposed incentives are a preliminary step for the government's cybersecurity policy and have not yet been finalized.

The White House has been working to tighten up the country's cybersecurity over the past couple of years. In February, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that he said will "strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy."

The president also signed an executive order in July 2012 which detailed emergency Internet control. This order was designed to empower certain governmental agencies with control over telecommunications and the Web during natural disasters and security emergencies.

It's probably a wise decision for the government to have cybersecurity on the front burner. Weeks after the head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, announced that she believed a "cyber 9/11" could happen "imminently" -- crippling the country's power grid, water infrastructure, and transportation networks -- hackers hit the U.S. Department of Energy. While no data was compromised in this attack, it did show that hackers were able to breach the government's computer system.

In May, Congress released a report that claimed power utilities in the U.S. are under "daily" cyberattacks. Of about 160 utilities surveyed in the report, more than a dozen reported "daily," "constant," or "frequent" attempted cyberattacks on their computer systems. While the data in the report sounded alarming, none of the utilities reported any damage to their facilities or actual breaches of their systems -- but rather attempts to hack their networks.

The proposed incentives are a part of the White House's Cybersecurity Framework, which should be complete by October. A final framework is scheduled to be released in February. Critical infrastructure companies will be encouraged to sign onto this framework.