Senior DHS official weighs in on cyber legislation

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The Department of Homeland Security’s Larry Zelvin is the latest administration official to call for legislation to strengthen DHS's hand in detecting and thwarting cyber threats.

Congress should enact a law to clarify the department’s statutory authority on cybersecurity issues, said Zelvin, who heads the National Cyber and Communications Integration Center. National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers has said repeatedly that information-sharing legislation is a much-needed arrow in the government’s cybersecurity quiver.

While the FBI and intelligence agencies have clear legal mandates, "we're reliant upon the Homeland Security Act of 2002, legislation that was designed to meet a terrorist threat – airplanes crashing into buildings. And we’re adapting that for" cybersecurity, Zelvin said June 25 at an AFCEA conference in Baltimore.

Zelvin cited Heartbleed, the Open SSL vulnerability made public in April, as a threat with which enhanced DHS authority could have helped. The department led the government’s response to the bug, scanning various agencies' networks for intrusions, but Zelvin said asking each agency's permission to do so was cumbersome. "There was nobody in a holistic way looking at" the federal government’s vulnerability to Heartbleed, he added.

Zelvin also said he strongly supports legislation put forth in the Senate that would house a "portal" at DHS for public-private information sharing.

"As far as DHS's role in information sharing, I think we can provide a service to other government partners. I would love to free up … the FBI to do more law enforcement and domestic intelligence," he said in response to a question from FCW.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have drafted a bill that would set up such a DHS portal, where private firms could confidentially share threat information without legal liability.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

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