DHS: President's Cyber Initiative paying off

Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Greg Garcia kicked off the fifth annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month by saying that the government's IT systems are safer this year than when he joined the department two years ago.

'They are more secure, and they are going to get more secure,' he said Thursday at the launch event in Washington. 'There is always more to do.'

Garcia cited a number of areas of progress, including implementation of elements of the president's Cyber Initiative, announced early this year. The initiative, much of which is classified, focuses on hardening government networks to provide a front line of defense, improving cyber intelligence through information gathering and sharing, and research and development of next-generation security tools. DHS has been given a lead role in protecting government systems.

'We have made notable progress in each of these areas,' he said. But he added, 'there is no room for complacency; there is no excuse for ignorance.'

Combating complacency and ignorance is the goal of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a joint program of the DHS National Cyber Security Division and the National Cyber Security Alliance, an organization of public, private and academic sector experts. Together they sponsor online and other activities geared at raising awareness among consumers and home users, as well as businesses.

Garcia cited some significant changes in the cyber environment since the first awareness month was declared in 2004. At that time a survey showed that one third of respondents thought there was a better chance of being struck by lightning than of being the victim of a hacker, and spam was the biggest online concern of corporations. Spam and lightning are still with us, but few computer users are unaware today of the threat posed by malicious code, hackers and online criminals.

'Cyber security has become a major concern,' Garcia said. 'The next step is to make it a major priority.'

Toward that end, the NCSD budget has grown from $66 million in fiscal 2004 to $313 million today, he said, and the staff is expected to grow from 48 persons last year to more than 100 by next year.

'I'm satisfied that we have the resources we need to take it to the next level,' with implementation of the Cyber Initiative, Garcia said.

One of the initiative's elements that have contributed to improved security is the Einstein program, he said. Einstein is a monitoring program that is part of Trusted Internet Connection, an effort to reduce and better control the government's network connections to the Internet. Einstein packet filtering devices are being used by US-CERT to monitor network traffic at approved connections. It is a passive data collection system that has helped monitors understand activity, and to spot and stop suspicious or malicious activity.

Garcia said the next step is to enhance Einstein with intrusion detection and prevention so it can actively protect government networks.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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