Keeping cybersecurity research quiet

Officials at agencies that fund cybersecurity research sparred about how public completed findings should become. Keeping secrets and bare-bones budgets dominated a discussion about federal cybersecurity research last week at a meeting of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee.

Secrecy has become an issue because officials at agencies that provide research funds for cybersecurity disagree about whether research results should be classified. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials who spoke at the meeting said they consider most of the agency's cybersecurity research to be classified.

Anthony Tether, DARPA's director, defended classification. He said that as Defense Department technology advances, weapons increasingly communicate via networks. In that scenario, battlefield networks are as important as the weapons themselves. "If anyone can take our network down, our effectiveness is down to zero," he said.

A different attitude prevails at the Homeland Security Department. At the meeting, DHS officials said they favor a rapid transfer of cybersecurity research results into commercial products. "My customer is the nation's infrastructure, and things that are classified don't protect my customer," said Simon Szykman, DHS' director of cybersecurity research and development.

Despite opposing views on secrecy issues, few differences exist among federal research-granting agencies regarding funds for solving immediate and fundamental cybersecurity problems. Money is scarce.

The National Science Foundation's Cyber Trust program has $30 million for cybersecurity research, but only $10 million of it is so-called new money. "The balance of that is really coming out of programs that were started within the last few years," said Carl Landwehr, the program's director.

Landwehr said the foundation supports cybersecurity research through a number of other venues, such as its information technology research program.

"It's certainly true — and I think probably appropriately so — that the agency programs are going to reflect the agency priorities," he said. But he said it is unclear if cybersecurity research is a governmentwide priority.

For homeland security, the president's fiscal 2005 budget request includes slightly more than $1 billion for research and development. But only $18 million of that is earmarked for cybersecurity research.

Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington and co-chairman of the advisory committee, was upset that no more than $18 million was requested for cybersecurity research. "You're doing a great job," Lazowska sarcastically told Szykman.

Szykman responded by saying that the request is undergoing re-evaluation as "priorities are being reconsidered." He hinted that DHS might ask for more.

One question that needs to be answered is if cybersecurity "is a never-ending challenge or one that can be reasonably managed," said Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS. He said the government should do everything it can to minimize cybersecurity risks. But even the government should not expect absolute security, he said.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group