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DOE Taps PNNL CIO To Improve Security

Federal agency brings in a national lab CIO to help implement a cybersecurity strategy that spans its diverse and autonomous operations.

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The U.S. Department of Energy is looking to bolster its cybersecurity readiness with the appointment of Jerry Johnson, CIO of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the past eight years, as a senior policy and technical adviser.

Johnson had first-hand experience with one of the federal government's most serious cyber attacks. In 2011, he oversaw PNNL's response to a dual-pronged cyber attack that was likely part of a broader attack against government agencies and private-sector companies. The lab disconnected its network, conducted a forensics investigation and re-imaged its systems before going back online.

Some security experts surmised that the broader espionage campaign, dubbed Operation Shady Rat, originated in China. Johnson publicly shared the lab's experience and lessons learned to help others prevent, and if necessary respond to, such attacks.

[ What does NASA plan for the coming year? Read NASA Details 2013 Plans. ]

At the Department of Energy, Johnson will work with CIO Bob Brese and his deputy CIOs to develop a cybersecurity strategy that spans the agency's disparate operations, which include 21 national labs and technology centers and four electric power authorities. Those largely independent organizations have their own cyber defenses and action plans. "This will be an umbrella strategy," Johnson said.

DOE's Joint Cybersecurity Coordination Center, or JC3, supports agency-wide reporting and tracking of cyber incidents. Johnson will work with the agency's associate CIO of cybersecurity, Gil Vega, to advance those capabilities and implement a more comprehensive incident-response plan.

Johnson will also spearhead the DOE's response to a March 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office on national security risks associated with federal agencies' IT supply chains. The GAO recommended that the departments of Energy, Homeland Security and Justice develop policies and procedures to guard against supply chain threats such as malware and counterfeit hardware that might exist in computer and networking equipment. The DOE's nuclear weapons operations are among the areas that will be assessed.

Johnson's experience makes him uniquely qualified to not only help improve the DOE's cybersecurity posture, but also to bridge cultural differences between the department and its labs, which are operated by private-sector companies or universities, are staffed by non-government employees, and in many cases are located far from Washington, D.C. In addition to having a hand in improving processes, Johnson will serve as a liaison between the DOE's Office of the CIO and the lab CIOs in the field, splitting his time between PNNL's campus in Richland, Wash., and DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. "This is going to be very beneficial," he said.

Brese took over as the DOE CIO six months ago, after serving as acting CIO. He was formerly deputy CIO of the National Nuclear Security Administration, another DOE organization that operates with arms-length autonomy. Energy's Office of the CIO includes more than two dozen deputy CIOs and other technology directors.

Brian Abrahamson steps in as CIO at PNNL. Abrahamson had served as the lab's chief enterprise architect since 2011. Before that, he was CIO and chief architect at Pacific Gas and Electric. PNNL director Mike Kluse, in a statement on the changes, said Abrahamson's industry experience makes him well suited for the lab CIO position.

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