DHS, DOD disagree on cybersecurity and secrecy

Keeping secrets and bare-bones budgets dominated a discussion of federal cybersecurity research this week at a meeting of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee.

Secrecy has become an issue because federal agencies that provide research funds for cybersecurity are split over 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 information.

Anthony Tether, DARPA's director, defended classification. He said 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 toward classification prevails at the Homeland Security Department. DHS officials at the meeting 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, director of cybersecurity research and development at DHS.

Despite opposing views on secrecy issues, few differences exist among federal research-granting agencies regarding funds for solving both 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, who is the program director.

Landwehr said NSF supports cybersecurity research through a number of other venues, such as its information technology research program. He also noted that organizations throughout the federal government are spending money on cybersecurity research -- among them the Air Force, the Army, the Energy Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Justice Department and intelligence agencies.

"It's certainly true -- and I think probably appropriately so -- that the agency programs are going to reflect the agency priorities," Landwehr said. But he said it is unclear whether 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, who is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington and co-chairman of the advisory committee, was clearly miffed that no more than $18 million was requested for cybersecurity research. "You're doing a great job," Lazowska said sarcastically, directing his comment to Szykman, DHS' director of cybersecurity research.

Szykman responded by saying that the $18 million request is undergoing re-evaluation as "priorities are being reconsidered." He left open the possibility that DHS might ask for more.

Another official said DHS is also looking outside the department for funds to pay for cybersecurity research. "There are billions of dollars on the sidelines" in the form of venture capital that could be tapped for cybersecurity research, said Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS.

One question that needs to be answered is whether cybersecurity "is a never-ending challenge or one that can be reasonably managed," Yoran said. 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 advisory committee that met April 13 is an independent group of academic and computer industry experts who advise the President, Congress and federal agencies on information technology research.

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