DHS hammering out cybersecurity planning

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DHS's mandate includes protecting the nation's critical infrastructure, such as its power grid, highways and financial systems. (Stock image)

With the National Institute of Standards and Technology's cybersecurity framework in the final stages of development, attention is shifting to what the Homeland Security Department is doing to complement NIST's guidelines.

DHS is expected to soon release plans of its own to help the owners and operators of critical infrastructure secure their networks and systems. The plans are part of a directive laid out earlier this year, Presidential Policy Directive-21, which President Barack Obama issued along with an executive order targeting national cybersecurity.

"DHS has a responsibility to develop a program that ... will help make the framework user-friendly," said Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary at DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate, speaking Oct. 30 at a Bloomberg Government event in Washington, D.C. The DHS initiative will focus on "how to take all of the work done in pulling together all these best practices, and really make it useful to the wide world of critical infrastructure operators out there."

Assisting companies – particularly small and medium-size organizations – in implementation, helping to make the framework understandable and establishing performance goals are part of DHS's plans. Another focus is incentives.

"We're fleshing out a series of areas in which we might be able to provide incentives," she said. "One of the ways we incentivize appropriate behavior now in the public is through insurance. What can we do to help promote the development of a robust insurance market?"

Spaulding said that workshops and meetings with stakeholders are helping DHS officials examine the current state of cybersecurity and determine the way forward. She also said that, pursuant to PPD-21, DHS officials have been working to develop a list of organizations most vulnerable to a cyber attack that could have national security implications.

"We've engaged in a collaborative effort across [critical infrastructure groups]; hundreds of people were involved to better assess, through a consequence analysis, a list of entities," she said. She noted that the effort was not an individualized risk assessment of security postures in specific organizations, but one that, as ordered in the presidential directive, assumed there had been a cyber incident and examined potential consequences at a range of entities.

Whether that list will be made public remains uncertain, but it is possible that more information about the assessment could come in the forthcoming update to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, last updated in 2009. PPD-21 called for an update to the plan, and Federal News Radio reported that an update could come to the White House as soon as Nov. 8.

About the Author

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

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