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3/16/2011
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Why Cybersecurity Partnerships Matter

The public and private sectors must collaborate in new ways to ward off dangerous threats to critical systems and IT infrastructure.

Greater Threat Awareness

Cybersecurity leaders inside the Washington beltway and outside understand that tighter relationships between government agencies and businesses can lead to greater threat awareness and faster response. For this article, I talked to Gregory Schaffer, Homeland Security's assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications; Kathleen Kiernan, InfraGard's chairwoman; Bob Dix, VP of government affairs and critical infrastructure protection with Juniper; and Microsoft's Charney. Everyone agreed on two points: There needs to be significant improvement in communications and active engagement between the public and private sectors.

One new way to accomplish that goal is through a talent swap, letting cybersecurity pros in business and government move across lines temporarily as a way of picking up new skills and sharing best practices. Just this month, Homeland Security launched a "loaned executive" program, with an opening for a senior adviser for cybersecurity and communications integration planning. DHS is looking to fill that position with an exec from the private sector. The job description: Function as a consultant on private-sector models, methodologies, best practices, and process developments for potential application within Homeland Security.

In a presentation at MIT this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano invited students and faculty to become part of a "deeper, broader partnership" on homeland security. Napolitano pointed to the "trifecta" of disasters in Japan--an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant crisis--as underscoring the need for resilient infrastructure and networks. "At DHS, we're asking how we can ensure the industrial control systems that run our water treatment and power plants are safe, how to use the distributed nature of cyberspace as a strength rather than a liability that makes it more difficult to defend," she said.

Info sharing alone isn't the end goal, says Charney
Info sharing alone isn't the end goal, says Charney
At the Defense Department, a new "IT exchange program" aims to let security professionals within the military learn best practices from businesses, and vice versa. "We want senior IT managers in the department to incorporate more commercial practices," Lynn said at RSA. "And we want seasoned industry professionals to experience first hand the unique challenges we face at DOD."

What else will it take? As much as some people dislike the idea, government regulation may be the only way to raise the level of security across industries with the haste that's needed. Too many companies grasp best practices in cybersecurity but don't actually implement them. The one area where we see consistent, aggressive change (despite some flaws) is in organizations required to meet the Payment Card Industry Digital Security Standard. If Uncle Sam really wants to protect the nation's IT infrastructure, he may have to mandate it.

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