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10/20/2009
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DHS Secretary Says Cabinet-Level IT Position Unnecessary

Napolitano addresses role of cybersecurity czar, calls for individuals to take personal responsibility by practicing better security habits

The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today basically dismissed the concept of a cabinet-level IT position for technology and cybersecurity, noting that IT networks and services underlie most operations today.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered an unprecedented Web address this morning -- which came on the heels of a video address on cybersecurity by President Obama last week -- urging citizens and businesses to help in the fight against cybercrime and cyberattacks, and detailing her department's role in the fight. In a brief Q&A session following her online speech, Napolitano said, "It's really hard to segregate [IT] out."

"I'm not sure that I think that a cabinet-level position is necessary. And the reason is that cyber runs through everything that we do as a government," she said when asked why there was no cabinet-level IT position. "I think one of the things we're learning as we enter this new cyber arena is that segregating it into an IT function is no longer adequate. Again, as my remarks suggested, cyber is part of everything we do, from the most basic transaction."

Cyber should be "part of our thinking in all departments," she said. "But added to that now, the president has included a chief technology officer -- a chief information officer -- in the White House, and he will be appointing a coordinator for cyber within the White House to help make sure that cyber is part of all that we do throughout the vast array of the federal government as we move forward."

The secretary did not say when or who would be named to the much-anticipated cybersecurity czar slot -- a position that remains unfilled. Frank Kramer, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, was considered the front-runner as of last month, and industry experts had predicted President Obama would announce his new cybersecurity official this month to coincide with Cybersecurity Awareness Month. But so far, there has been no word from the White House.

"Just as with our nation's preparedness for natural disasters or terrorist attacks, our nation's cybersecurity is a shared responsibility," Napolitano said in her Web address. "And it's an opportunity for you as an individual to personally contribute to our national security. Securing your home computer helps you and your family, and it also helps your nation in some very important ways.

"It helps by reducing the risk to our financial system from theft, and to our nation from having your computer infected and then used as a tool to attack other computers."

Napolitano also emphasized the position that no one agency, organization, or industry can go it alone in securing the nation's networks. She pointed to the DHS's most recent efforts to beef up federal networks and to better coordinate with private industry. "We have consolidated our cyber efforts under the leadership of a highly regarded cybersecurity expert, Phil Reitinger, to improve coordination between government, industry, and international partners. This includes the National Cyber Security Division, including the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, also known as US-CERT, and the National Cyber Security Center," she said.

"We're working closely across the federal family to protect the federal civilian networks and systems. First, we're reducing and consolidating the number of external connections federal agencies have to the Internet through the Trusted Internet Connections initiative. Then, we're implementing DHS's intrusion detection capability, known as EINSTEIN, to those trusted Internet connections."

And she gave a recruiting pitch of sorts to back the DHS's new plans to hire 1,000 cyber professionals duringthe next three years. "Here is our message to those professionals and future-professionals: Not only does DHS want you, your nation needs you. We need our best and brightest, our finest computer scientists and engineers, mathematicians, and innovative thinkers. I want you to look to DHS," he says.

Napolitano spelled out what individuals can do to help their own security as well as that of the nation: install firewalls, run and ensure that antivirus and anti-spyware is up-to-date, and check computer settings so that operating system and applications are patched automatically.

"Practice good online habits by not visiting suspect sites, downloading suspicious documents or attachments, or opening email from people you don't know. Back up your files regularly, use strong and secure passwords, and begin educating your children early about staying safe online," she said.

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 Executive 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 ... View Full Bio

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