Pentagon, Homeland Security Collaborate on Cybersecurity

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2011 — In line with an agree­ment between the depart­ment sec­re­taries last fall and a recent­ly released White House pro­pos­al, the Defense Depart­ment is shar­ing cyber­se­cu­ri­ty infor­ma­tion, capa­bil­i­ties and exper­tise with the Home­land Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment, a Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said today.

Robert J. But­ler, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for cyber pol­i­cy, was among four senior offi­cials who tes­ti­fied before the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Home­land Secu­ri­ty and Gov­ern­men­tal Affairs today about the Oba­ma administration’s leg­isla­tive pro­pos­al to pro­tect the nation’s com­put­er net­works.

Under the plan, Home­land Secu­ri­ty would lead the effort to pro­tect Amer­i­cans, the nation’s crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture and the fed­er­al government’s com­put­er net­works. The Defense Depart­ment would retain pro­tec­tions over its “dot-mil” domain, but would work in close col­lab­o­ra­tion DHS and the depart­ments of Jus­tice and Com­merce to bet­ter safe­guard cyber­space.

“Just as our reliance on crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture has grown, so have the threats,” But­ler told the com­mit­tee, adding that the mil­i­tary is “crit­i­cal­ly depen­dent” on the civil­ian pow­er gen­er­a­tion grid, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, trans­porta­tion and oth­er sec­tors run on com­put­er net­works.

Cyber attacks have become so per­va­sive as to cre­ate “a real pos­si­bil­i­ty of a large-scale attack on any of our nation’s crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture,” But­ler said.

“The sta­tus quo [in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty] is no longer accept­able — not when there is so much at stake,” he said. “We can, and we will, do bet­ter.”

Com­mit­tee mem­bers and gov­ern­ment wit­ness­es described cyber­se­cu­ri­ty as a Wild West of unco­or­di­nat­ed efforts strug­gling to stay ahead of rapid­ly grow­ing and increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed threats to the nation’s secu­ri­ty and econ­o­my. The administration’s pro­pos­al — request­ed by Con­gress mem­bers faced with dozens of pieces of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als — would give legal author­i­ty to the appro­pri­ate agen­cies to bet­ter coor­di­nate cyber­se­cu­ri­ty.

Some 2 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide use the Inter­net, and an esti­mat­ed $1 tril­lion is lost annu­al­ly to cyber crimes, com­mit­tee mem­bers said. Con­gress and U.S. exec­u­tive depart­ments, they added, are the tar­get of about 1.8 bil­lion cyber attacks per month.

Pro­tect­ing com­put­er net­works requires a “whole of gov­ern­ment” approach, But­ler said, and the Defense and Home­land Secu­ri­ty depart­ments already are doing that. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Home­land Secu­ri­ty Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano laid the foun­da­tion for the col­lab­o­ra­tion in Octo­ber with their agree­ment to share oper­a­tional plan­ning and tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment, he said.

Since then, But­ler said, the col­lab­o­ra­tion has grown into joint coor­di­na­tion at U.S. Cyber Com­mand and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency at Fort Meade, Md., and the shar­ing of infor­ma­tion, capa­bil­i­ties, and employ­ees.

Philip Reitinger, under­sec­re­tary of home­land defense for nation­al pro­tec­tion and pro­grams, said Home­land Secu­ri­ty, Defense Depart­ment and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency offi­cials meet reg­u­lar­ly and have week­ly tele­con­fer­ences to coor­di­nate cyber­se­cu­ri­ty.

“We each bring unique things to the table,” he said. “DOD has unpar­al­leled tech­ni­cal exper­tise and cyber exper­tise. In DHS, we’ve built up our own exper­tise, work­ing broad­ly across agen­cies.”

Home­land Secu­ri­ty will stay “oper­a­tional­ly synched” with the Defense Depart­ment, and both depart­ments and NSA will deploy cyber experts to work at each oth­ers’ sites, Reitinger said.

To ensure a steady sup­ply of cyber experts in the future, But­ler said, the Defense Depart­ment sup­ports var­i­ous high school and col­lege com­pe­ti­tions such as the Cyber­Pa­tri­ot, which the Air Force Asso­ci­a­tion began as an annu­al com­pe­ti­tion in 2009, as well as coach­ing and men­tor­ing pro­grams in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty.

“This is not only about today, it’s also about tomor­row,” he said. “Sec­re­tary Gates has made this a big pri­or­i­ty.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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