U.S. Cybersecurity Czar Post Created
WASHINGTON -- Cybersecurity will get a high-level champion at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of a broad reorganization announced today by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Following a review of the DHS structure that he began after taking over as secretary in February, Chertoff elevated the cybersecurity chief at DHS several levels on the agency's organizational chart by creating the position of assistant secretary for cyber and telecommunications security. Several tech-oriented trade groups, including the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, have repeatedly called for creation of an assistant secretary position to raise the profile of cybersecurity issues at DHS.
DHS did not release information about when it expected to have an assistant secretary in place.
The assistant secretary will be authorized to set policy and pull private industry into collaborations with government, ITAA president Harris Miller said recently. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," Miller added. "Have we made enough progress yet in those areas? The clear answer is no."
IT groups have also suggested that a higher-level position with more authority would reduce turnover among government cybersecurity chiefs. The last DHS cybersecurity director, Amit Yoran, held the job for about a year.
Miller on Wednesday applauded Chertoff for creating the new position. Four bills introduced in Congress this year had also called on DHS to create an assistant secretary of cybersecurity.
DHS, when it was created in January 2003, didn't "give adequate focus" to cybersecurity, Miller said Wednesday. Miller called on the assistant secretary to establish lines of communication between government and private industry. In many cases, private industry sees cyberattacks sooner than government agencies do, he said, and there needs to be a "sophisticated, real-time, highly trusted" information-sharing mechanism between government and private companies.
An assistant secretary will be able to tie together several cybersecurity efforts within the government, added Jack Danahy, CEO of Ounce Labs, an IT security vendor. "Now there will be one voice telling the industry what government wants to do," said Danahy, who serves on a software security working group at DHS.
But some security experts have questioned the value of having an assistant secretary, saying that without greater leadership from the top levels of the Bush administration, a new position may do little to improve cybersecurity.
"If you don't have a strategy, does it matter what you call them?" asked James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "Can you think of an assistant secretary who's an advocate in Washington?"
Lewis suggested that "no" is the correct answer to both of his questions. A higher-level position could raise the profile of cybersecurity issues on a symbolic level, Lewis acknowledged in a recent interview, but in practice, "I don't know if it makes much of a difference."
Chertoff's reorganization includes a number of other changes at DHS, including hiring a chief medical officer to address medical preparedness, and assigning the duties of chief intelligence officer to the DHS assistant secretary for information analysis. In a speech, Chertoff noted that DHS has ten intelligence-generating offices and said that the role of the chief intelligence officer will be to coordinate all DHS intelligence.