Thumbs down again on cybersecurity czar

PDD-63 White Paper

The Bush administration is wrapping up details on a new governmentwide structure to lead national cybersecurity efforts but has again rejected the idea of having a security czar.

White House officials have been working for months on ways to reorganize the government's initiatives for protecting the information systems that support U.S. critical infrastructure. The critical infrastructure protection effort began under President Clinton in 1998, when he signed Presidential Decision Directive 63.

Many have suggested establishing a single cybersecurity chief with a role similar to John Koskinen's position leading the federal government's Year 2000 efforts. But Clinton, concerned that agencies would pass responsibility to such a czar, created in PDD 63 a national coordinator at the National Security Council to oversee agency efforts.

The new Bush plan, expected later this month, will continue in that vein by creating a board — with members from the various sectors — to co.ordinate policy and provide support for individual agency initiatives.

"We can't have a single government agency or single government entity handling this problem," said Paul Kurtz, director of transnational threats at the National Security Council and the NSC's leader for cyberprotection issues. "The idea is a dispersed solution that allows coordination across agencies." Kurtz spoke June 12 at the National Conference on Cyber and Physical Security in New Orleans.

The board's chairman would report directly to the national security adviser, currently Condoleezza Rice. The board would have several function- specific subcommittees to cover the issues in depth. This would include national security, research and development, training, and physical security as it ties in with cybersecurity, Kurtz said.

"We're going to be at the top trying to set the trend lines, trying to set the pace," he said.

But the board would not dictate specific rules for agencies to follow, because that would likely lead to the same pass-the-buck mentality as a czar, Kurtz said.

"We can't fight for each particular agency's needs," he said. "We can help, but we need to have each agency take responsibility for their security."

The board would oversee some spec.ific initiatives, including the Cyber Warning and Information Network, which is under development to tie together cyber incident alert information from across government and even the private sector. This effort would link to the initiative at the General Services Administration's Federal Computer Incident Response Center to create a central warning and analysis center for civilian security incidents.

This network's structure is in development, with plans to put it in place this fall. For now, the idea is to create a "ringdown" network so that if any agency's incident response team sends out an alert on the network, it is automatically sent to all other members of the network, Kurtz said.


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