Cybersecurity awareness descends on Washington

Inside the Beltway, anyone not talking about the elections seems to be discussing cyber, and for good reason. Cybersecurity Awareness Month kicked off as of Oct. 1, and federal officials have wasted no time in making the rounds.

Throughout the week, high-level officials made appearances to talk cyber, including Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency director, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and several members of Congress.

The general theme seemed to be calls for partnership to secure U.S. interests in cyberspace, particularly critical infrastructure. In two appearances this week – a rarity – Alexander repeatedly called on agencies to collaborate with each other and the private sector to better share information for the sake of national security.

“Our country … built this Internet and all the stuff that goes with it, and it is absolutely superb,” Alexander said in his second appearance of the week, at an Oct. 4 cybersecurity event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “We’re the nation that developed the Internet; we ought to be the first to secure it.”

On Sept. 28 Napolitano, speaking at a GovExec event in Washington, said White House officials are close to finishing an executive order on cybersecurity, a measure being taken in the wake of cybersecurity legislation failing in Congress last month. Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the executive measure, pressing the Obama administration to allow the House and Senate work through the legislative processes.

Napolitano also highlighted the need for a more cyber-savvy workforce, noting that DHS is working on training and hiring staff with cyber expertise. Her remarks were reinforced by a report from the DHS Task Force on CyberSkills, which outlined recommendations for beefing up the cyber ranks in government, including a call to hire 600 “federal employees with mission-critical skills.”

The report contains eleven recommendations grouped under five separate objectives, including the hiring of cyber-skilled staff with “high proficiency” in mission-critical areas; developing and maintaining advanced skills in DHS employees; expanding the pipeline of talent through “innovative partnerships;” and establishing a “cyber reserve” of technically proficient cybersecurity staff that can be tapped when needed.

However, not everyone is in favor of DHS’ potential lead on government cybersecurity. Although Alexander said he believes DHS should spearhead federal efforts, including for transparency purposes, his overtures coincided with the release of a damning congressional report that found DHS wasted taxpayer dollars on a botched intelligence-sharing program that collected information on U.S. citizens.

It wasn’t the only bad news in federal cybersecurity that emerged along with the national attention. On Sept. 30 it was reported by the Washington Beacon that Chinese hackers breached a White House military office network. According to published reports, a White House official confirmed the breach did happen but said there was no damage from the apparent spear-phishing attack.

“These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have mitigation measures in place,” the official said in statement to The Hill.

At the Chamber of Commerce event, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) also expressed concerns about an Iranian cyber threat.

“I think they’re (Iran) closer than we'd all like them to be to come in and cause trouble on our financial services networks,” Rogers said, according to Business Insider.

Previously, at the GovExec event, Rogers railed against the theft of intellectual property that is costing the U.S. heavily in losses of both financial and innovation – a serious problem with cyber espionage he described as “death by a thousand cuts.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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