Current 'Whac-A-Mole' cybersecurity approach not a winner, DHS official says

Senior DHS official says overall cyber environment must be made more secure

Current computer security efforts resemble the arcade game “Whac-A-Mole” and demonstrate the overall need for a more secure cyber ecosystem, according to  senior DHS cybersecurity official Bruce McConnell.

“A threat pops up here, we whack it down, and another one comes up here – this is the environment that many of your enterprise cybersecurity officers are facing,” McConnell, counselor to DHS’ top cybersecurity official, told a crowd of information technology vendors Nov. 5. “We can’t continue to play Whac-A-Mole; we’ve got to move forward and have a fundamentally more secure [cyber] ecosystem.”

McConnell said current conditions aren’t sufficient because of the very large number of people online, the increasingly complexity of computer networks, and the economic and security importance of IT systems.

“[W]e can’t get there – to real security – today, but at the same time we have to continue to work to secure where we are today, [while] at the same time planning for tomorrow,” he said.

McConnell said a more secure cyber environment will require:

  • More cybersecurity professionals.
  • Better metrics to measure the security of systems.
  • Improved ability to authenticate identity online.
  • Increased automation of responses to security threats.

In addition, McConnell said there must have a clear delineation of the cybersecurity roles and responsibilities for different agencies and industry. He also said future cybersecurity solutions would require close collaboration with other nations.

In the meantime, McConnell said the rapid pace in which technology changes complicates the situation.

“So it’s a big problem, there’s definitely job security in this arena,” McConnell said during the conference held by Input, a market intelligence and consulting firm.

During the speech, McConnell detailed several government efforts designed to improve cybersecurity. DHS is responsible for securing the government’s civilian .gov domain and working with industry to improve cybersecurity under the government’s current IT protection strategy.

McConnell said DHS was working to explain the effects of proposed cybersecurity bills to officials in Congress. Meanwhile, he predicted that computer security-related legislation would pass next year, and said it was important to use that opportunity to make as many improvements as possible.

“We need to try to get as much as we can get next year because we don’t get that many bites of the apple,” he said, explaining that major changes could improve the Federal Information Security Management Act. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get something next year.”

1105 Media Inc., Federal Computer Week’s parent company, was the media sponsor for the event.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group