A year later, still no DHS cybersecurity chief

Some information technology industry groups and individuals are getting impatient waiting for the Homeland Security Department to fill its still-vacant assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications position, created a year ago July 13.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced July 13, 2005, that he would create the position to answer calls from Congress and industry to have a senior DHS position dedicated to cybersecurity.

Robert Holleyman, president and chief executive officer of the Business Software Alliance, sent a letter to Chertoff today saying, “We are hopeful that you and the [Bush] administration will soon be able to nominate a qualified individual for the assistant secretary position.”

Other industry members are less polite. Although DHS “clearly has had a lot of very important priorities to manage, it is troubling that after an entire year, we still have not seen this crucial position filled,” said Paul Kurtz, executive director of the Cybersecurity Industry Alliance.

“This is not a simple personnel issue,” Kurtz said. “It is indicative of the ongoing lack of attention being paid to cybersecurity at the most senior levels of government. Without strong federal leadership, our national information infrastructure remains at risk with no one clearly in charge of coordinating its security and reliability.”

“It is simply not acceptable that our government does not have a high-level, dedicated position to oversee the prevention, response and recovery from threats to our information infrastructure,” Kurtz said. “There is no shortage of qualified candidates to serve as assistant secretary, just as there is no shortage of hackers eager to wreak havoc on our information infrastructure and national economy. Until we fill this position and address other shortcomings of our national cybersecurity program, we will continue to live on borrowed time.”

Bill Conner, chairman, president and CEO of Entrust, which sells identity management and authentication products, was happy with the news last year about creating the position. Now, he’s not so pleased.

“On the issue of cybersecurity, apathy is just not an option,” Conner said. “Until there is a resident expert in this position, Congress can sit and debate all day long. Meanwhile, the identity theft body count continues to rise. Enough is enough.”

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