Security chief urges partnering

A Homeland Security Department official said this morning that the government's record of fostering public/private partnerships for securing cyberspace has been unacceptable.

While claiming progress on cybersecurity, Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS, vowed that the government would work harder on developing its relationships with the private sector in the coming year and would also pursue a long-term agenda that may not see results for many years to come.

Yoran said that while DHS is focused "on changing the fundamental ground rules of cybersecurity," it also has more immediate tasks on its agenda, such as building what he described as a survivable network for sharing critical information if the Internet and other communications systems are brought down by an attack.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Information Technology Association of America, a group that represents IT companies, Yoran said he is often asked to describe a catastrophic cyberattack, or "digital Pearl Harbor." He declines to paint such scenarios, but he said that the government has begun modeling such attacks and is in the process of building a survivable infrastructure, called the Cyber Warning and Information Network. Progress on creating the network "is notable," he said, "but is not complete."

Yoran said that DHS will be thinking of cybersecurity in broad terms and trying to avoid a too-narrow focus on cyberterrorism. For that reason, he said, many of the government's long-term cybersecurity efforts will be to improve practices used within the software industry to develop and evaluate software code, in part by using more automated techniques for writing secure software.

Given the trends toward having larger and larger teams of coders working on software and sending coding jobs offshore, Yoran said that government and industry must also develop better methods for detecting the presence of backdoors and other insecurities in software.

Citing the DHS' National Cyber Alert System as an accomplishment, Yoran said it attracted 250,000 subscribers in less than a week of its launch on Jan. 28, "a genuinely not-too-shabby reach for our first week in operation."

He also noted that the department has formed three new operational groups that are contributing to the national cybersecurity effort. One is the Chief Information Security Officers Forum, an organization of senior officials responsible for cybersecurity in their federal agencies.

A second is the Government Forum of Incident Response Teams, whose members are systems operators from DHS and from other federal civilian and military agencies who meet to work out interoperability problems.

A third is the Cyber Interagency Incident Management Group, which is made up of law enforcement, national security and Defense Department officials that work on coordinating plans for responding to incidents.

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