Current 'Whac-A-Mole' cybersecurity approach not a winner, DHS official says

Senior DHS official says overall cyber environment must be made more secure

Current computer security efforts resemble the arcade game “Whac-A-Mole” and demonstrate the overall need for a more secure cyber ecosystem, according to  senior DHS cybersecurity official Bruce McConnell.

“A threat pops up here, we whack it down, and another one comes up here – this is the environment that many of your enterprise cybersecurity officers are facing,” McConnell, counselor to DHS’ top cybersecurity official, told a crowd of information technology vendors Nov. 5. “We can’t continue to play Whac-A-Mole; we’ve got to move forward and have a fundamentally more secure [cyber] ecosystem.”

McConnell said current conditions aren’t sufficient because of the very large number of people online, the increasingly complexity of computer networks, and the economic and security importance of IT systems.

“[W]e can’t get there – to real security – today, but at the same time we have to continue to work to secure where we are today, [while] at the same time planning for tomorrow,” he said.

McConnell said a more secure cyber environment will require:

  • More cybersecurity professionals.
  • Better metrics to measure the security of systems.
  • Improved ability to authenticate identity online.
  • Increased automation of responses to security threats.

In addition, McConnell said there must have a clear delineation of the cybersecurity roles and responsibilities for different agencies and industry. He also said future cybersecurity solutions would require close collaboration with other nations.

In the meantime, McConnell said the rapid pace in which technology changes complicates the situation.

“So it’s a big problem, there’s definitely job security in this arena,” McConnell said during the conference held by Input, a market intelligence and consulting firm.

During the speech, McConnell detailed several government efforts designed to improve cybersecurity. DHS is responsible for securing the government’s civilian .gov domain and working with industry to improve cybersecurity under the government’s current IT protection strategy.

McConnell said DHS was working to explain the effects of proposed cybersecurity bills to officials in Congress. Meanwhile, he predicted that computer security-related legislation would pass next year, and said it was important to use that opportunity to make as many improvements as possible.

“We need to try to get as much as we can get next year because we don’t get that many bites of the apple,” he said, explaining that major changes could improve the Federal Information Security Management Act. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get something next year.”

1105 Media Inc., Federal Computer Week’s parent company, was the media sponsor for the event.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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