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Cybersecurity Czar Outlines Priorities

Cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt also announces release of unclassified version of Obama administration's plan for securing government, private industry networks
SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference 2010 -- During a Town Hall meeting session here today, the nation's new cybersecurity czar mapped out his top priorities in the post and provided a glimpse at how the Obama administration might handle security issues with other countries.

In a keynote address earlier in the day, national cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt also announced that the White House was releasing an unclassified version of its plan for securing government and private industry networks -- the so-called Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which is now available for download from the White House Website (PDF).

Among Schmidt's priorities are the "resilience" of federal government networks and ensuring those networks are properly secured, and ensuring that private-sector partners also have sufficiently secured systems and networks. "The government is not going to secure the private sector," Schmidt said. "[But] we are making sure our [private sector] partners have more security as part of what we're doing."

And when it comes to security incident response (IR), he says, these firms have not had a central point of contact. He says he's looking over IR issues for these partners, who want to know who to call when an incident occurs and how to protect their intellectual property. Schmidt says he also wants to ensure state and local governments have law enforcement cyber operations.

But fresh on the minds of many organizations here are the recent attacks out of China on Google, Adobe, and other companies. Although Schmidt didn't directly address those attacks, he did provide a hint at how the administration plans to address security across international boundaries: "We are looking at it from a government-to-government level," Schmidt said. "We are making sure the ones we're doing business with have military operations with, or security with, the mechanisms to focus on cybersecurity like we do."

Diplomacy is a big piece of the equation here, he said. "We have legitimate disagreements between governments [on the Internet]," he said. "But that should not impact our ability to look at cybersecurity issues. Nobody wins if there's a disagreement on the Internet.

"We can't continue to go on the way we've been going and expect things to be different. We have to engage our partners, and engage with their private sectors as well."

Schmidt also disputed claims that the U.S. was losing in the battle against cybercrooks. "I don't agree that the bad guys are ahead of us," he said.

As for technology products, Schmidt said the feds can use their procurement muscle both to get more secure hardware and software, which in turn will help private industry networks. "Look at the purchasing power of the government," he said. If the feds request secure routers, secure servers, and secure desktops with specific security and other features, vendors are more likely to offer similarly secure products to their commercial customers, as well, he said.

An international cybersecurity strategy, as well as a focus on federal acquisitions, are definitely among the things Schmidt should be focusing on in his post, according to Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness for Core Security.

The CNCI released today lists 12 initiatives, including managing the federal network as a single enterprise network with multiple connections, deploying intrusion-detection and intrusion-prevention systems governmentwide, coordinating and redirecting R&D efforts, connecting current cyber ops centers "to enhance situational awareness," developing a cyber counterintelligence plan, and defining the government's role in securing critical infrastructures.

"The CNCI was created to stop the hemorrhaging of the exfiltration of data," Core's Kellermann says. "It's important. But it puts us back to square one."

Meanwhile, Schmidt said his job is also to look at cloud computing capabilities item by item, and determine how authentication, authorization, and encryption would be deployed, for instance. "As we deploy cloud, we'll do so in a secure and privacy-protecting manner," he said. "We need to be sure we are building the cloud security so we don't have to say we built it, but now we have to go back and secure it."

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