DHS needs to find its niche in IT security, former cybersecurity director says

DHS needs to find its niche in IT security, former cybersecurity director says

The Homeland Security Department is entering a new phase of operations and needs to decide what its role should be in protecting the nation's information infrastructure, the former director of the National Cybersecurity Division said today.

'The Number 1 recommendation I would make to my successor would be to clearly define what the organization is going to do and not do, so its partners can have proper expectations,' Amit Yoran said.

Yoran, who spoke at the e-Gov Institute's information assurance conference in Washington, abruptly resigned from the DHS position in September. He called the job of defending cyberspace a 'somewhat ill-defined mission that is very difficult to get your arms around.'

Yoran is an entrepreneur who helped found the cybersecurity vendor Riptech Inc. He saw his job as the first cybersecurity director in the young department as much like the start-up of a new company. Now that the first phase has passed, the new director must figure out where he fits among the FBI, National Security Agency, National Science Foundation, Defense and Commerce departments, and the other agencies that have roles in implementing the National Strategy to Defend Cyberspace.

'Define what part of the strategy the department ought to be in the pole position for,' he advised.

One of the challenges facing government is to improve the level of cooperation between government and the private sector, especially in sharing information, Yoran said. To get reluctant industry leaders to share data with government, agencies must set an example by sharing their information.

'But there is a very limited amount of information that the government has and can share,' he said.

What information it has often is tied up in a culture of secrecy that keeps it classified and confidential. The process for scrubbing and releasing information is too slow and the results often are not helpful, Yoran said.

'I don't know if we have even a single example of being able to share meaningful information that came out of the top-secret environment,' he said.

Yoran also called for more government support for basic security research. He said the initial $18 million budgeted for cybersecurity R&D in the first year of DHS was adequate as the department identified needs. But going forward, 'personally, I would like to see greater government support for fundamental security research,' he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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