Packet Rat: Rat wonders what gives with the cyberczar hot seat

The Rat

Typically speaking, you can tell how someone feels they've been treated in their job by how much notice they give when they leave.

By that measure, the Rat figures former cybersecurity chief Amit Yoran was pretty ticked off. Yoran gave the administration a day's warning that he was bailing from his Homeland Security Department post.

'One day's notice,' the cyberrodent sighed. 'I know cable installers who give more notice than that. I guess Tom Ridge can forget about getting a Christmas card from Yoran this year.'

'What is it over there at DHS that makes cybersecurity directors so unhappy?' the Rat asked a friend in the department when they bumped into each other on the subway. 'Is Ridge a hard case or something?'

One of Yoran's deputies, Andy Purdy, has stepped into the job temporarily. If you count Purdy, four people have held the cyberchief post in two years. That kind of turnover will undoubtedly give pause to anyone considering the position.

Sure, Richard Clarke, the first to hold the cyberczar gig, managed to make a name for himself. 'Of course, he did it the same way all the others have'by quitting ugly,' the Rat reminded his DHS friend.

And there's good reason to believe Purdy will hold onto the job through the end of the year at least. 'Would you apply for a job where your manager could get fired in November?' the Rat's friend asked.

'Heck, my managers are always getting fired,' the Rat replied. 'That's the only thing that keeps me coming back to the office every day'daily change management.'

In the meantime, it looks like some folks are trying to juice up the job a bit to make it more attractive. Congress is lobbying DHS to elevate the job within the department'after it was rumored that the gig would be exiled to the White House again (though it's hard to imagine that moving from DHS' off-the-beaten-path digs to Pennsylvania Avenue is viewed as exile).

Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge says he plans to move the cybersleuth position nearer him on the management ladder. The new appointee could end up as high as an assistant secretary'though DHS public statements have vacillated wildly on exactly what level the job would occupy.

To be fair, considering there hasn't been a cyberterrorism attack (other than the latest round of Patch Tuesday fixes from Microsoft Corp., or Diebold Inc.'s e-voting jihad), it would seem DHS is doing a pretty good job at something. That something would seem to be staying out of the way of the people who can truly protect critical systems infrastructures, namely industry.

Last month, the Rat sat in on a Northern Virginia Technology Council cybersecurity conference. He heard Lawrence Hale, another Yoran deputy, say DHS was following the lead of private infrastructure providers.

'Considering how hard it is to get anyone to keep the cybersecurity job,' the Rat reflected, 'maybe they should follow the private sector's lead one step further and outsource the job to India.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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