Homeland Security

NPPD still hopeful on infrastructure protection

Shutterstock image (by MaximP): network defense.

Department of Homeland Security officials are hopeful that a plan will move ahead to put cybersecurity analysts from the Office of Infrastructure Protection next to physical security experts from the Federal Protective Service in the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.

"I'm optimistic," Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary for DHS' National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), told FCW after a speech at the Homeland Security Law Institute on Aug. 25.

DHS officials have said the proposed combined Cyber Infrastructure Protection unit would address the troubling and looming threat of combined, or associated, cyber and physical attacks on facilities.

Spaulding told FCW that NPPD is gearing up to brief presidential transition teams on the reorganization and the reasoning behind it. She said she was encouraged by apparent support in Congress in the past few weeks.

At the Aspen Institute Security Forum in July, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the fact that President Barack Obama linked the reorganization to his policy directive on cyber incident coordination, which defines responsibilities for the federal response to cyberattacks, would help the realignment's chances. However, there still has been no concrete progress.

In a panel discussion after Spaulding's speech, several lawyers for large corporations said the need for closer coordination of cyber and physical security has been apparent to industry for years.

Ira Raphaelson, former general counsel for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., said the company became aware of a threat to one of its buildings in a recently foiled Singapore missile attack via threatening posts on social media by one of the facility's employees.

A lawyer for a U.S. critical infrastructure company said his corporation found itself at the mercy of a disgruntled employee bent not only on wreaking havoc on its IT systems but also on its physical infrastructure.

Christopher Graham, assistant general counsel at Georgia-Pacific, said his company had to call in the FBI to help stop a cyber assault on a paper processing plant in Louisiana by an ex-employee.

Brian Johnson, a former IT specialist and systems administrator at Georgia-Pacific, was arrested in July 2015 for allegedly committing a weeklong assault on IT systems at the plant earlier that year. He had been fired only days before the attack began, Graham said, and had told friends that the company would regret it if he were ever fired.

In February, Johnson pleaded guilty to intentionally damaging a protected computer.

During the attack, Graham said the company lost control of IP addressing capabilities for many plant functions such as scheduling. Firewalls were breached, and passwords were changed for devices.

However, Graham said the attack became more than just an IT problem when the attacker gained access to and blocked the controls to a massive, potentially dangerous high-pressure paper dryer at the plant.

Graham told FCW that closer control of cyber and physical security is always a good thing. He said his company's chief information security officer has been working with the head of physical security for some time.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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