DHS plans for cybersecurity in interconnected world

Experts praise quadrennial review for increased detail, but wish for more guidance on information-sharing.

Internet of things (Shutterstock)

The Department of Homeland Security is increasingly concerned about the rise of interconnected machines, government and private networks -- and its newly released strategic plan reflects that emphasis.

"The cybersecurity threat has changed dramatically" in the four years since DHS released its last Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR), Alan Cohn, DHS assistant secretary for strategy, analysis and risk, said at a June 27 discussion on the recently released, federally mandated report. "The connections between people and the use of technology to drive our daily lives has created huge opportunities." \

"There are also an increase of threat actors and increasing vulnerabities," Cohn said, as everything from pacemakers to refrigerators to critical infrastructure networks become Internet-connected.

The 103-page report, released on June 19, encompasses the agency's strategic vision and priorities through 2018. Although the plan was initially met with congressional criticism for a six-month delay in its release, experts at the Center for Strategic & International Studies event praised it for its increased level of detail on specific pressure points at the agency, as well as for offering possible solutions.

"Cybersecurity is one of the top dynamic areas that we see as a top challenge going forward," Cohn said. Cybersecurity underpins much of the agency's strategy in the QHSR, from continuous monitoring of federal networks, to technologies that could better facilitate border security, to protecting critical infrastructure or detecting physical threats.

For federal IT managers, the QHSR's overall guidance said agencies must secure federal IT by approaching federal systems and networks as an integrated whole -- researching, developing and rapidly deploying cybersecurity systems as threats evolve.

That cybersecurity recipe is a complicated one for DHS, but Cohn said the new QHSR takes a more discerning, disciplined approach. While the 2010 QHSR painted a broader outline of the agency's responsibilities, he said, the current document details how to execute capabilities, acquire the most effective technology, hone planning and deploy resources.

The expert panel following Cohn's remarks praised the report for that increased level of detail. Matthew Fleming, a fellow at the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute, said the report gets into the importance of Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation and how information is shared across government, as well as how to handle information fusion centers and other controversial topics.

Fleming did suggest that the report could have gone into even more detail on cybersecurity protections, however. He suggested that DHS should offer more concrete information on what local and state governments and private industries can do to protect against cyberattack. He also said the report could have offered some glimpses of how cyberattacks can echo across networks, causing cascading effects that might not be known to those trying to secure them.

Though DHS released the document too late to include it in planning for the fiscal 2015 budget, David Berteau, senior vice president and director of the CSIS National Security Program, said the QHSR will be a key document in planning for fiscal 2016. That FY16 budget, Berteau noted, is the only one that new DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson will build, defend and execute completely as head of the department.

NEXT STORY: FBI issues phish warning to feds

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