Cybersecurity

How DHS is helping implement the cyber framework

Infrastructure

The Department of Homeland Security is expanding its role in helping the private sector protect networks and infrastructure from cyber attack. Under the program, DHS will provide assistance in implementing the Cybersecurity Framework, released on Feb. 12 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The program, called the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community or C3 (pronounced C-cubed), launched alongside the NIST framework. It's designed to connect critical infrastructure operators around the goals of readiness, risk management and response to cyber attack. The program is also open to state and local governments, which have networks with potentially vulnerable information and may operate infrastructure such as water supplies. Jenny Menna, the director of DHS' Stakeholder Engagement and Cyber Infrastructure Resilience Division, said the department was offering assistance to entities that are seeking help on a voluntary basis.

As a participant in the process leading up to the release of the NIST framework, DHS "recognized that critical infrastructure is not a homogonous mass," and that different kinds of providers might have different needs Menna said at a Feb. 20 panel held by law firm Crowell and Moring. Some companies, like small- and medium-sized businesses with important roles in the industrial and technological supply chain, might not even recognize themselves as part of the nation's critical infrastructure.

The C3 program is initially designed to engage stakeholders across 12 sectors, but it will expand to include private businesses of all kinds. Menna said that DHS would roll out new aspects of the plan in the coming weeks. These could include incentives for private business that adopt the framework, although there are some hurdles here including how use of the NIST guidelines would be certified and monitored.

DHS is also continuing a program it took over from the Defense Department, in which companies can receive classified threat information from the government. The voluntary program was slow to get traction, because of the delays of getting the appropriate security clearances for participants, but Menna said they had reduced the wait time in a recent exercise involving U.S and Canadian railroads.

Private companies may be averse to participating in voluntary DHS programs for reasons other than bureaucratic lag, said Mark Weatherford, a principal at the Chertoff Group and a participant in the panel. The "Snowden effect" is making companies a "little more standoffish today than they were nine months ago," he said.

As a result, Weatherford is seeing a growing trend in cybersecurity intelligence startups, that rivals what government develops. The private intell may have more value, because it's customized around the demands of particular industry sectors, he said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 22, 2014 Gary Morgan Ft Worth Texas

DHS should frame C3 as best practices for the civilian sector; NIST 800, if implemented properly is absolutely the best.

Best practices are voluntary but sets a standard that can be measured across industries and platforms. I believe this would be politically more, palatable to this sector of our society.

I also think metrics for the civilian sector should reflect the areas where the most vulnerabilities, and risks occur consequently they can use this as selling points if they do a good job.

I think this is the the only way to sell it as a gov/civilian partnership and make it work.
I think a lot can be done with the proper selling, telling and implementation.

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