DHS secretary: 'Cyberspace is civilian space'

Napolitano says government has a role in security, but so does private sector

Calling the security of cyberspace a shared responsibility, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday said the task of securing this new and quickly evolving domain is beyond the ability of any one agency or even the entire government.

“This rapid and dispersed rate of change in the cyber sphere has led the Department of Homeland Security to pursue an approach that acknowledges that we all have a role to play,” Napolitano said in prepared remarks. “Today’s threats require the engagement of our entire society – from government and law enforcement to the private sector and importantly, individual members of the public.”

She outlined DHS efforts to improve government IT security and also cited cooperative efforts with the private sector, including the investigation of a recent breach of RSA security tools.


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Napolitano made her comments in a speech at the University of California Berkeley's College of Engineering that she billed as a follow-up to the first State of America’s Homeland Security address in January at George Washington University. Things have gotten better since the 2001 terrorist attacks, she said, but they have not gotten good enough, she said. One domain that needs improvement is cyberspace, where developments in functionality typically outpace security.

“Today, our biggest opportunities, like our most urgent threats, are networked,” she said. “The pace of innovation has accelerated and become more and more decentralized, but so too have the methods to attack our way of life, especially online.” She added that “in a very short amount of time, we have also grown dependent on digital networks working reliably and securely as part of our day-to-day — actually more like minute-by-minute — lives.”

DHS has two primary roles in cybersecurity. The first is protecting the federal executive branch civilian agencies, the .gov domain, and the second is leading the protection of critical infrastructure and its connections to cyberspace. Although the military has established a Cyber Command with responsibility for defending military cyberspace and for responding to and waging cyber war, this responsibility does not officially extend to civilian critical infrastructure.

“At DHS, we believe cyberspace is fundamentally a civilian space,” Napolitano said.

In the .gov domain, DHS is implementing the National Cybersecurity Protection System, which includes the EINSTEIN intrusion detection system, and is developing the National Cyber Incident Response Plan.

In the private sector, DHS' responsibility is limited to cooperative rather than regulatory efforts.

When RSA was hacked, compromising the company’s SecurID token, DHS and law enforcement and intelligence communities worked with the company.

“We took our understanding of the tools, tradecraft, and techniques used by these malicious actors and converted it into actionable information that all 18 critical infrastructure sectors could use to employ mitigation measures that would lower their risk to the type of attack we saw at RSA,” Napolitano said.

An administration initiative to improve cybersecurity is the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which is part of a broader vision for a more secure online environment.

“Over the longer term, we want to move toward agile, interoperable computer systems and networks that can be reliably authenticated and that can recognize and respond to threats in real time,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano called on industry to redouble its efforts to increase the reliability and quality of the products that enter the global supply chain and made a pitch for government service.

“Perhaps above all, we are focused on building a world-class cybersecurity team by hiring a diverse group of cybersecurity professionals — computer engineers, scientists and analysts — to secure the nation’s digital assets and protect against cyber threats to our critical infrastructure and key resources,” she said. “It should not be unusual for a top computer scientist to take a leave from academia or the private sector and spend a couple of years in government — and hopefully, at DHS — working on solving important technological problems.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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Reader Comments

Tue, May 3, 2011 Formerly DHS Washington, DC

Well...there she goes again! Secretary Napolitano takes a bizarre bureaucratic approach by claiming cyber turf as hers ("we believe cyberspace is fundamentally a civilian space") and explicitly not DOD's area of responsibility. Having claimed the turf, she goes on to state that DHS is not really responsible for defending it (but it's still her turf, DOD, not yours!). If attacked, the best our critical infrastructure owners can expect from DHS is "cooperative" efforts. Curiously, Napolitano's only stated alternative is "regulatory" -- apparently no thought given to a "protect and defend" approach. Perhaps next week we might expect SECDEF Gates to take a similar approach to the private sector by promising them "cooperative" efforts if the country comes under attack -- not likely! It's time we faced the unfortunate reality that forming DHS was a very good idea nearly 10 years ago, but it's an idea that has failed miserably in implementation. Billions of dollars go down the drain in a bureaucracy that has seriously weakened the agencies it absorbed while adding no apparent value to the actual security of our homeland. It's time to disassemble this unnecessary and ineffective layer of bureaucracy. It's also time to face up to the reality that DOD is responsible for protecting our nation from ALL forms of attack, including cyber attack.

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