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5/29/2009
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Cybersecurity Review Finds U.S. Networks 'Not Secure'

The report dovetails with President Obama's call for the creation of a cybersecurity coordinator who will orchestrate and integrate federal cybersecurity policies and agendas.

The White House has released a report calling for urgent action to secure the nation's computer network infrastructure.

The report covers the findings of a 60-day review of national cybersecurity policy and practice by Melissa Hathaway, a member of the National Security Council (NSC) and the acting White House cybersecurity chief. The report dovetailed with President Obama's announcement Friday of the creation of a cybersecurity coordinator who will orchestrate and integrate federal cybersecurity policies and agendas.

"The architecture of the nation's digital infrastructure, based largely upon the Internet, is not secure or resilient," the report says. "Without major advances in the security of these systems or significant change in how they are constructed or operated, it is doubtful that the United States can protect itself from the growing threat of cybercrime and state-sponsored intrusions and operations."

The report characterizes cyberthreats as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges of the 21st century. Military leaders have made similar warnings to Congress in recent months.

Shortly after Obama appointed Hathaway, the government's cybersecurity director, Rod Beckstrom, resigned. The former Silicon Valley entrepreneur was appointed in March 2008 to run the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), a group created to oversee national cybersecurity. In his resignation letter, Beckstrom criticized the lack of funding for the NCSC and the National Security Agency's dominant role in cybersecurity initiatives. "[T]he threats to our democratic processes are significant if all top-level government network security and monitoring are handled by one organization," he said.

Lawmakers and cybersecurity experts have spoken out about cybersecurity problems for years, but the government's piecemeal responses to date haven't kept pace with cybersecurity threats. Recent reports about the vulnerability of the air traffic control system and the electrical grid, not to mention frequent breaches of government and private-sector systems, have led to repeated calls for strong leadership from the White House.

For example, a cybersecurity report released in December by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, warned that America is losing the battle to protect cyberspace. It said that cybersecurity "is a strategic issue on par with weapons of mass destruction and global jihad" and that it "can no longer be relegated to information technology offices and chief information officers."

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The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.

So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?

Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?

Join Dark Reading senior editor Sara Peters and guests Angela Knox of Cloudmark, Barrett Sellers of Arbor Networks, Regina Wallace-Jones of Facebook, Steve Christey Coley of MITRE, and Chris Roosenraad of M3AAWG on Wednesday, July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss all this and more.