DHS lags in cybersecurity, GAO says

Critical Infrastrcuture: Challenges Remain in Protecting Key Sectors [.pdf]

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Although the Homeland Security Department has increased its attention to cybersecurity in the past six months, it still has not implemented 25 recommendations that are needed to fulfill its cyber responsibilities, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

DHS in September 2006 named Greg Garcia assistant secretary of cybersecurity and telecommunications and has made progress on improving awareness and coordination since then, the report states.

But much work remains to be done on 25 recommendations related to assessing cyberthreats and vulnerabilities, providing warning of cyberattacks, improving information sharing and coordinating response and recovery following a cyberattack, including Internet recovery, the GAO said.

“While DHS has made progress in addressing some of these recommendations much work remains to be done,” the GAO said.

The report summarized progress in private-sector infrastructure protection, including cybersecurity, for the nation’s 17 sectors, among which are energy, financial services, food, information technology and water supply. All 17 sector coordinating councils delivered their sector protection plans to the federal government on schedule by December 2006, the GAO said, but the quality of the plans varied. Each of the 17 sectors was supposed to include cybersecurity components in its plans.

The private sector participants reported challenges in the planning that include lack of effective relationships with DHS, reflecting a lack of trust; high employee turnover; and lack of understanding of infrastructure operations at DHS. Other critical challenges involve delays in obtaining guidance from the government — and in receiving numerous changes in guidance — on how to do infrastructure protection planning, the GAO report states.

Some private sector participants were fearful of sharing sensitive information on their vulnerabilities and weak spots to their sector coordinating councils because they worried the information might be released to the public or subject them to lawsuits, the report states.

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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