Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander told a packed security audience here at the RSA Conference 2009 that the National Security Agency wants to help support the nation's critical IT security infrastructure efforts as part of a "team" effort. And that the NSA isn't interesting in the job of running the security of the critical IT security infrastructure.This is good news. For the past several months, we've watched the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and (what many believed to be) the NSA lobbying to be the ultimate protector of the critical IT infrastructure.
But you know what? IT security is too big of a job to be "led" by any one agency. None of these agencies know how to properly secure banks or the financial system. Certainly not better than private industry does. They'd focus too much on locking people out, not on enabling secure business operations. They also don't know much about securing utilities, chemical manufacturers, small government agencies, health care organizations. No, they don't. The job of securing these industries should be handled by each respective constituency.
This is not to say that all of these agencies don't have a role in maintaining the nation's IT security. They certainly do. They can provide intelligence and support. And no one, other than the armed services, should have the authority to retaliate against a nation state that launches a denial-of-service or some other form of attack against our infrastructure.
What the nation needs is each part of our infrastructure - from banking to manufacturing to telecommunications - to protect is part of the infrastructure, and report their efforts to Congress. Perhaps the government could "Red Team" these organizations, to see just how well they are protecting their networks. And provide guideance on how to adjust accordingly.
And there needs to be open lines of communication, for certain, with the government and private industry. But any effort by DHS or the Air Force, or any other department, to oversee and enforce the security of each segment will do little more than create a humongous bureaucracy that will fail under it's own weight.
At today's Cryptographers Panel, also at the RSA Conference, which was held right before Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander gave his keynote, Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT Counterpane proffered his opinion on the subject. He said that national IT security efforts should not be led by any single agency, and that a more federated approach will be more successful.
I couldn't agree more.