DHS, DoD to Tackle Jointly Cyber Defense

NSA Cytological Know-How Will Aid DHS to Combat Cyber Threats
DHS, DoD to Tackle Jointly Cyber Defense
The departments of Homeland Security and Defense have formally established a joint approach to defend America's government, military and domestic IT infrastructure .

The new framework agreed to by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, outlined in a memorandum of agreement signed Wednesday, would enhance operational coordination and joint program planning to secure critical IT systems. Under the agreement, DoD cyber analysts will be embedded within DHS to better support the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center and DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications, Navy Rear Adm. Michael Brown, will work fulltime at the National Security Agency, DoD's electronic spy agency, along with a support team comprised of DHS privacy, civil liberties and legal personnel.

James Lewis, a senior follow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, characterized the announcement as a big step forward, saying the move brings strong cryptologic support to DHS to help defend government and critical national IT systems. "A lot of times we'll see malware that might have encrypted elements, and only people who are going to be able to read those encrypted elements will be at NSA," Lewis said. "Now, DHS has a way to quickly get in touch and get some help on that."

Sen. Thomas Carper, the Delaware Democrat who chairs a subcommittee with government IT security oversight, welcomed the DHS-DoD move, saying it "underscores the need for legislative action by Congress to aid the administration's efforts." Carper cited the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, a bill he's sponsoring with Sens. Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Napolitano and Gates, in their memo, said the new structure is aimed to put the full weight of their departments' combined capabilities and expertise behind every action taken to protect the nation's vital cyber networks, without altering the authorities or oversight of our separate but complementary missions. "We will improve economy and efficiency by better leveraging vital technologies and personnel to serve both departments' missions in full adherence to U.S. laws and regulation," they wrote. "This memorandum of agreement furthers our strong commitment to protecting civil liberties and privacy."

Concerns have been raised about the DoD and NSA becoming involved in protecting domestic networks. Lewis said he has spoken with DoD officials who have assured him that DHS would remain in charge of defending domestic networks, with DoD and NSA providing needed technical know-how.

"Everyone I talked to about this, from Deputy Secretary (of Defense William) Lynn on down, has made that point over and over again; they are really aware of the need to have DHS be the lead on these sorts of activities," Lewis said. "I don't see any desire on the part of DoD to take over DHS's mission. That's why you have this MOU (memorandum of understanding). It apparently was Gates and Napolitano who really thought this through, so I don't think that's a real concern. I know people worry about it, but not something DoD wants to do or is thinking of."

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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