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6/17/2010
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Cybersecurity Not A 'Command And Control' Effort

Philip Reitinger, director of the National Cybersecurity Center at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, talks coordination of efforts among government entities, private sector

Cybersecurity initiatives will always be distributed efforts, which is what makes the cybersecurity czar's position so crucial, according to the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity director.

"This is not a command and control environment," says Philip Reitinger, who is director of the National Cybersecurity Center at DHS, in an interview today. "DoD has key responsibilities, DHS has key responsibilities, and so do the Department of Commerce and NIST, which is part of Commerce. And there are multiple entities in the private sector [with responsibilities as well]."

With the flurry of activity on Capitol Hill these days over cybersecurity legislation and the recent formation of the U.S. Cyber Command, the U.S.'s cybersecurity policy and efforts are getting difficult to pin down. But Reitinger says that's where Howard Schmidt, the Obama administration's cybersecurity coordinator, comes in.

"Cybersecurity has always been distributed and will remain distributed," Reitinger says. "You have to be able to work this in a highly distributed way with full coordination, and that's why Howard's office is so important."

The administration is getting close to actually testing out its newest cyber incident response plan. The DHS will sponsor the CyberStorm III cybersecurity drill in September, which will put the nation's new cyber response plan through its paces in a simulated attack scenario to see if it's on the mark and whether it needs any tweaks. This simulation will be different from previous ones because it will include international players. "Cybercrime is inherently international," Reitinger says. "Even if someone in the U.S. is breaking into another system in the U.S., the chances are that communication is going to go internationally."

Meanwhile, Reitinger says authentication is one of the key ways to make the Net safer, more broadly available, and with strong authentication where it's required, such as for sensitive transactions like filing federal taxes. "This doesn't mean everyone is authenticated everywhere they go on the Internet or whatever they do. A lot of things are anonymous, but Constitutionally anonymous."

A nationwide authentication or identity management effort would include IDing not only the users, but their device and pieces of software, he says. "If we had [stronger] authentication more broadly available and usable, we'd be in a much better place," he says. "If you wanted to file your taxes or look at sensitive government information, you would have to be strongly authenticated to do that.

"We're looking at this at DHS," he says.

So what threats keep Reitinger up at night? He says there are so many possible threats out there that he tries not to "get fixated on any one of them." He is more concerned with maintaining the current priority status of cybersecurity in the U.S.: "I think this is a critical issue of national security. We've got to keep the pressure and focus on it."

He points out just how serious the government is taking cybersecurity now: The Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review Report published in February identified cybersecurity as one of the top five priorities for homeland security operations, and not just for DHS. "It's on par with defending our borders ... defending our domestic security," he says.

Reitinger, who worked under the Bush administration as well, says the previous administration's cybersecurity initiative was a good start. The Obama administration drove it home with a personal touch. "One important thing is the personal priority this president has put in place on this issue," he says.

And this administration also has offered transparency of the process -- namely its declassification of part of its U.S. cybersecurity plan in March -- and all of the public participation it has invited and encouraged, he says. "When we had our very first meetings, the private sector was involved at the start," Reitinger says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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