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Risk

Homeland Security: Devices, Components Coming In With Malware

Some imported components for electronic and computer hardware pose a complicated security risk, says the Department of Homeland Security.

Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, LocalPain
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Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, LocalPain
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official acknowledged the persistent threat of pre-existent malware on imported electronic and computer devices sold within the United States, sparking renewed interest in a problem the federal government has been trying to mitigate for some time.

Calling the threat "one of the most complicated and difficult challenges we have," Greg Schaffer, acting deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate for the DHS, said that he is "aware that there are instances where that has happened," although he did not go into specifics about those instances.

He was pressed to acknowledge the threat under questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. The lawmaker asked Schaffer point blank about the security risks already embedded into components coming into the United States, as well as what the DHS and other agencies are doing about it. A video of the hearing is available online.

Indeed, the cybersecurity supply chain requires securing the multiple steps of the supply chain--product assembly and acquisition, data sharing among partners, governance, and more--to ensure components of devices such as laptops and smartphones aren't already infected by malware before they're sold. This makes it a difficult problem to manage, not that federal officials aren't trying, Schaffer said.

Schaffer said there are a number of existing federal efforts under way to tackle the problem. He mentioned a task force co-managed by the DHS and the Department of Defense to identify "short-term mitigation strategies" against such threats. He said the agencies also are working with the private sector to better monitor the manufacturing supply chain to prevent infected components from coming into the U.S. market.

Indeed, the Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative and the Cybersecurity Policy Review--the former set up under the George W. Bush Administration, the latter under President Obama--are aimed at shoring up the security of cyber supply chains.

The House hearing last week was one of a series on a comprehensive cybersecurity legislative proposal the Obama administration unveiled in May. A key focus of the National Security Strategy is to work with the private sector to identify some of the biggest risks and allow companies to draw up their own plans to thwart them.

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