07:17 PM

Homeland Security Needs Public-Private Cooperation

Amit Yoran, head of the department's cybersecurity division, says the government and the private sector have much work to do when it comes to collaboration.

In the past year, the Homeland Security Department has launched several initiatives to protect the United States from cyber- and physical terrorist attacks--but much more work needs to be done, particularly when it comes to collaboration between government agencies and private-sector IT users. That was the message delivered Monday by Amit Yoran, director of the department's National Cyber Security Division.

Speaking at the Information Security Decisions conference in New York, Yoran noted the challenges associated with this need for public-sector agencies and private-sector companies to coordinate their knowledge of cyberthreats and physical threats, as well as infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Homeland Security estimates that private-sector companies run 85% of the services required to ensure national security, public health and safety, and economic stability. Yet private-sector executives are reluctant to provide critical infrastructure information about their companies' operations for fear of their vulnerabilities becoming a matter of public record. The challenge facing Homeland Security's Protected Critical Infrastructure Information program, introduced in February, becomes making sure that the information private-sector companies turn over to the department is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests by the public, Yoran said.

Software quality is also a key issue for cybersecurity--particularly because most software users aren't security experts. "The people on the front lines aren't soldiers or even government employees," Yoran said. "They're civilians without security clearances."

Developers must address the most obvious problems. "Ninety-five percent of software bugs are caused by the same 19 programming flaws," Yoran said. For this reason, it's "inexcusable" to develop software that suffers from an avoidable flaw such as buffer overflow.

And software quality will only become more difficult to police as more and more is developed by foreign nationals both offshore and within the United States, Yoran said. Companies will have to be on guard against backdoors potentially written into software that could allow access to their systems.

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