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Napolitano Calls Cybersecurity A Shared Responsibility

The Department of Homeland Security secretary stressed the federal government's involvement in securing cyberspace alongside private companies to mitigate threats to critical infrastructure.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
When security company RSA found itself the victim of a cyber attack recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was there working alongside the company and other law-enforcement agencies to mitigate the threat and ensure that other systems would not be threatened in the same way.

"We took our understanding of the tools, tradecraft, and techniques used by these malicious actors, and converted it into actionable information that … critical infrastructure sectors could use to employ mitigation measures that would lower their risk to the type of attack we saw at RSA," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week.

The move shows the department is ramping up its involvement with the private sector to secure cyberspace, an effort that is a "shared responsibility" of the federal government and technology companies alike, she said Monday, speaking at the University of California Berkeley College of Engineering. The text of her speech is posted online.

Likening cyberspace to a neighborhood, marketplace, or schoolyard, Napolitano said that the federal government sees it as a "civilian space." This idea informs how the DHS works to protect cyberspace by trying to keep critical infrastructure and its connections to that civilian space safe.

"This is not something we can do by ourselves," she said. "It requires a full range of partners--including other government agencies, the private sector, as well as individual users of the Internet."

To that end, Napolitano said the DHS is currently building a "technical ecosystem" based on its concept of cyberspace as a "distributed, civilian space," and also is creating a policy ecosystem to support that.

"I use the term 'ecosystem' intentionally--because cyberspace is a dynamic, constantly changing, even organic environment," she said. "We cannot treat it as static or self-contained."

The DHS is one of several federal agencies tasked with protecting not only federal cyberspace assets but also the U.S. critical infrastructure that powers the Internet against cyber attacks. To achieve the latter, the agency works closely with the private sector to share information about cyber attacks or potential threats to infrastructure.

The DHS also has been instrumental in setting guidelines for cybersecurity that organizations both inside and outside of government can follow, she said. Last month, the agency released a whitepaper setting out its "technical vision" for cybersecurity based on three principles--automation, interoperability, and authentication--showing how each can be applied to protect cyberspace.

The DHS also recently tested the inaugural National Cyber Incident Response Plan (NCIRP) it's developed during the CyberStorm III national exercise, which simulated a broadscale attack on the nation's critical infrastructure, she said. Cabinet agencies, 11 states, 12 international partners, and 60 private sector companies all participated in the exercise.

Napolitano's talk was part of a university speaking tour she's been doing to educate academia and the next generation of technology professionals on the DHS role in federal cybersecurity. Last month, she spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and urged scientists and engineers to help the DHS secure cyberspace.

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