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Cybersecurity chief sees 'business approach' at DHS

Source: Computerworld
By Paul Roberts
Date: June 28, 2003

Stop Cyberterrorism The mood at the Department of Homeland Security is like that at a dot-com
The atmosphere in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of chaotic energy, akin to that of a dot-com, but the new agency will need a more businesslike approach to successfully fight terrorism, according to Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary of homeland security. Liscouski was in Framingham, Mass., yesterday to discuss the government's plans to fight cyberterrorism and protect the nation's critical infrastructure. As the assistant secretary for homeland security for infrastructure protection in the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate (IAIP), Liscouski is responsible for overseeing programs to secure the nation's critical infrastructure and core services, including the DHS's new cybersecurity division.

Liscouski said that the DHS must first answer fundamental questions about its mission and functions such as, "What business are we in?" and "Is this the right business to be in?" Like a business, it must also define both short- and long-term objectives, be willing to experiment with different techniques on a small scale and react quickly to the emergence of new threats or further terrorist attacks. Fit and tanned, wearing pressed slacks and a casual, short-sleeve shirt, Liscouski looked more like an executive who just wrapped up 18 holes of golf than a government employee within the leviathan DHS. With extensive experience in law enforcement and the private sector, including a stint as director of information assurance at The Coca-Cola Co., he expressed skepticism about the big-program approach favored by federal agencies.

"My motto is 'Think big, act small, scale fast,'" Liscouski said. Such an approach will help in the battle against terrorism, where the U.S. government has to learn to "think like terrorists" in order to anticipate attacks and quickly respond to new threats and attacks, he said.

The emphasis on private-sector strategies was a recurrent theme for Liscouski throughout an hour-long question-and-answer session. On the issue of whether the government should mandate that corporations owning critical infrastructure comply with federal security standards, Liscouski came down hard on the side of voluntary compliance with industry "best practices" instead of government oversight. He called audits for compliance with regulations "post facto" events and questioned the efficacy of recent efforts at regulation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Passing audits doesn't make organizations secure, he said.
Noting that 80% of the nation's critical infrastructure is in private hands, Liscouski said that the private sector "owns" the problem of securing it and should be allowed to develop its own solutions to the problem with help and guidance from the federal government. Instead of standards, the government should offer incentives to encourage the adoption of secure practices and technology, he said.

Liscouski also weighed in on the heated debate about whether the Bush administration is giving short shrift to cybersecurity. The DHS's cybersecurity division is still without a chief after being taken out of the White House and placed far down in the IAIP hierarchy, and some industry experts have said that move sent a message that cybersecurity isn't a priority for the administration. Although cybersecurity is a critical component of the critical infrastructure, placing the cybersecurity function higher up within the DHS would create a "dysfunctional" atmosphere by separating IT infrastructure from other kinds of critical infrastructure, Liscouski said. "You've got to have a holistic approach."

On the issue of vulnerability disclosures, Liscouski said that the IAIP will "enhance" its relationship with the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and look for ways to reach out to software companies and security researchers and encourage responsible disclosure practices. Among other things, Liscouski said he favors the Freedom of Information Act exemption for information about critical infrastructure in the bill creating the DHS, saying there had to be a balance between the public's need to know about security vulnerabilities and protecting the proprietary interests of software makers.

"In order to get companies to share vulnerability information, we have to engender trust," he said.

Original article: http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/security/story/0,10801,82573,00.html

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