The cybersecurity priority for DHS in 2017

Because of the exponential growth of the Internet of Things, mobile devices, big data and digital commerce, cybersecurity has grown immensely as a key priority while DHS has assumed more of a formal government role in the civilian cyber arena. Cyberthreat actors include hackers, terrorists, criminals and nation-states.

As one of his first national security appointments, President-elect Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly is widely recognized for his expertise in counterterrorism, his dedication, composure and intellect. He is especially known for his excellent leadership skills honed by more than 40 years of military service, including as the commander of U.S. Southern Command.

There will be a multitude of issues Kelly will address in his new role as DHS secretary.

The DHS mission of protecting the homeland includes knowledge of areas such as law enforcement, counterterrorism, emergency management, cybersecurity, protecting critical infrastructure, and detecting and negating potential weapons of mass destruction.

All these areas will get strong attention by the new secretary. One area where DHS is certain to continue to assume a special role and profile is cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is a major challenge to the nation’s economic and security welfare.

DHS’ heightened cybersecurity mission was affirmed via the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security allocating $1.1 billion in fiscal 2017 for cybersecurity programs. The passage of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act by Congress has also bolstered DHS’ budding partnership with industry.

Because of the exponential growth of the Internet of Things, mobile devices, big data and digital commerce, cybersecurity has grown immensely as a key priority while DHS has assumed more of a formal government role in the civilian cyber arena. Cyberthreat actors include hackers, terrorists, criminals and nation-states.

At a recent Financial Crimes and Cybersecurity Symposium, current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson revealed that the threat his department fears above all others is phishing emails. Indeed, corporations and government agencies have been subjected to numerous breaches with serious security and financial implications in the past few years, including the Office of Personnel Management breach of millions of sensitive personnel records.

DHS’ current plans include expanding its lead federal civilian agency role in operational cyber preparedness, response and resilience. This includes an important role to help protect against targeted cyber intrusions of the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as financial systems, chemical plants, water and electric utilities, hospitals, communication networks, commercial and critical manufacturing, pipelines, shipping, dams, bridges, highways, and buildings. These plans include future procurement by DHS of new technologies, cybersecurity automation capabilities, hiring and training of IT security specialists, and enhanced collaboration and information sharing on threats with the private sector.

Kelly will be working closely with Trump’s cybersecurity team across agencies in government, including the Department of Defense and National Security Agency and with the Department of Justice and law enforcement.

Trump also recently selected Tom Bossert to serve as his White House homeland security adviser. Tom Bossert has a cybersecurity background, and his appointment signals the important role of cybersecurity in the new administration and the intent to fulfill the campaign platform. He will be working closely with Kelly on the cybersecurity mandate.

During his election campaign, Trump announced that his comprehensive cybersecurity platform will include:
  • An immediate review of all U.S. cyber defenses and vulnerabilities, including critical infrastructure, by a cyber review team of individuals from the military, law enforcement and the private sector.
  • The cyber review team will provide specific recommendations for safeguarding different entities with the best defense technologies tailored to likely threats, and will follow up regularly at various federal agencies and departments.
  • The cyber review team will establish detailed protocols and mandatory cyber awareness training for all government employees while remaining current on evolving methods of cyberattack.
  • Instructions for DOJ to create joint task forces throughout the U.S. to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement responses to cyberthreats.
  • Orders for the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide recommendations for enhancing U.S. Cyber Command, with a focus on both offense and defense in the cyber domain.
  • Development of offensive cyber capabilities to deter attacks by both state and non-state actors and, if necessary, to respond appropriately.

The 2017 DHS cybersecurity mission and implementation of Trump’s platform will require dedication, public-private cooperation and strong leadership to ensure its success. Kelly, in coordination with Bossert, are perfectly suited for that challenging mission.

Also available on Federal Times