Review of U.S. cybersecurity to call for executive leadership and stronger government-industry cooperation

SAN FRANCISCO — A report on the status of the nation’s cybersecurity will recommend that the White House take a leadership role in the nation’s critical infrastructure, according to the federal official tasked with conducting the governmentwide review of ongoing cybersecurity programs.

Protecting the nation’s information infrastructure is a task that transcends agency jurisdictions and government authority, Melissa Hathaway said Wednesday at the RSA Conference. Hathaway undertook the president’s 60-day cybersecurity review as acting senior director of cyberspace for the National Security and the Homeland Security councils. “It requires leading from the top, from the White House,” and from the senior level of every agency and every state and local government, she said.

“Public and private sector interests are intertwined,” Hathaway added. Roles cannot be sharply delineated, but, “the White House must lead the way forward.”

Hathaway’s keynote address at the gathering of cybersecurity professionals contained few details and no surprises. The review, ordered in February, was completed April 17. After it has been reviewed by the administration, “We will begin discussing the results publicly,” she said. She said the release would come “in the coming days.”

President Barack Obama has made cybersecurity a priority of his administration, a recognition of the underlying importance of the Internet and associated elements of the information infrastructure to our nation’s government and economy. The 60-day review is an initial step toward developing a comprehensive policy.

Hathaway called the 60-day period — which included Saturdays and Sundays — the most challenging of her career. Her team reviewed more than 250 executive orders, policies and advisory reports on cybersecurity, held 40 meetings with stakeholders and reviewed more than 100 papers submitted to it.

“Scores of legal issues emerged during the review,” she said, including issues of liability, data sharing, privacy and consolidation of power.

“The United States is at a crossroads,” she said. “Our global digital infrastructure is neither secure enough nor resilient enough for the ways we use it today, or the ways we will use it in the future. A growing array of state and nonstate actors are able to steal, change or destroy our information.”

Dealing with security piecemeal by different sectors and stakeholders, and dealing with security as a stand-alone issue, has not provided a secure infrastructure, she said. “Previous attempts to deal with cybersecurity in isolation have failed.”

The report will recommend a greater level of cooperation among governments, and between government and the private sector.

She dispelled the idea that security and technical functionality are at odds. If people cannot trust the technology they are using, it will not be able to drive innovation and contribute to the economy and to government as it has done. Security and functionality can and must support each other in our critical infrastructure, she said.

The recommendations from the 60-day review will be an “ambitious action plan,” Hathaway said. But it will be only the first steps in a marathon, “the beginning of the beginning.”

Security is a marathon and not a sprint, she said, and she called on the professionals in the audience to work with each other and with government to further the long process of improving digital security and resiliency.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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