Security group in the hot seat

National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace

The Homeland Security Department had the right idea when it created the National Cyber Security Division earlier this month, government and industry officials say, but many observers are withholding judgment until they see what the new division accomplishes.

The division, announced June 6, will coordinate the federal government's work on issues such as security education and awareness and cybersecurity warnings and responses. Many people in government and industry urged the Bush administration to create a formal structure ever since the release of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace was released in February.

One organization that has been folded into the new division is the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC), which issues security alerts for civilian agencies. According to Robert Liscouski, DHS' assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, the plan is to enhance FedCIRC's capabilities by melding it with other organizations to form the consolidated Cyber Security Tracking, Analysis and Response Center.

The consolidation should result in enhanced capabilities, but it will be important to ensure that federal-specific initiatives do not get lost in the group's broader focus, which includes other levels of government as well as the private sector, said Vance Hitch, the Justice Department's chief information officer and the cybersecurity and privacy liaison on the CIO Council.

"We want to have a proper balance of leveraging what is known in the broader community, but certainly [the federal government has] a lot of unique needs," he said. Members of the CIO Council plan to meet with officials in the Office of Infrastructure Protection to "shake out" this and other details, he said.

One of the center's first tasks is to provide a detailed view of vulnerabilities and incidents across all networks and infrastructures, which requires much more information sharing, particularly from industry, Liscouski said.

The government is already ahead of industry in this area, said Mark Forman, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of E-Government and Information Technology. But agencies still must improve that communication so government can be a model for the private sector, he said.

The CIO Council is working with OMB and FedCIRC to collect statistics on which agencies are sharing information, what information is shared and how useful that data has been in predicting incidents, Hitch said. The statistics will provide a baseline as FedCIRC and the new division work to correlate attack information, he said.

Getting incident data from industry leaders has long been a problem. They are looking to the new division to be a bully pulpit for information sharing, said Greg Garcia, vice president of information security at the Information Technology Association of America.

"You need to have a strong driver, and hopefully now DHS will fill that role," he said.

DHS officials are looking to name a director within the next month — someone from industry with a strong background in implementation, but who can also serve as a public and vocal advocate for the national strategy, Liscouski said at a June 6 briefing with reporters.

Industry leaders, however, continue to be concerned that cyber issues are not a priority for DHS. Officials point to the cybersecurity division's relatively low position in the DHS organization, which could create problems for the division director when it comes to working with other executives throughout government, Garcia said.

Liscouski said the division will not be able to efficiently access all the information and resources it needs if it is placed any higher in the DHS structure.

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Division of labor

The new National Cyber Security Division at the Homeland Security Department will have 60 full-time employees organized into three units, each unit focusing on implementing different aspects of the Bush administration's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. Those units will:

* Identify risks and help reduce vulnerabilities in federal networks, and coordinate with the private sector to do the same with the rest of the nation's cyber infrastructure.

* Oversee the Cyber Security Tracking, Analysis and Response Center, which will issue warnings and responses, track potential threats and vulnerabilities, and coordinate efforts among federal, state and local governments, and the private sector.

* Develop or enhance cybersecurity awareness and education programs for government, industry, academia and the public.

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