Homeland Security CIO: No 'Digital Pearl Harbor' Likely - InformationWeek

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Homeland Security CIO: No 'Digital Pearl Harbor' Likely

Steven Cooper says multilayered security efforts have made the probability of a digital surprise attack relatively low.

It's highly unlikely that the United States will experience a crippling "digital Pearl Harbor," the CIO of homeland security says. "While this is a possibility, the probability is relatively low," Steven Cooper said in an online chat sponsored by The Washington Post. "We have done a lot in the federal arena to provide multilayered security for our digital environments and continually 'red team' our networks and applications to find vulnerabilities."

The government spends millions of dollars on technology to safeguard IT, and Cooper said he isn't overly concerned about individuals who might compromise the government's IT infrastructure. "I would agree that it is always a risk," Cooper said. "However, all personnel working in the department, including contractors, must pass a security clearance and additional reviews and background checks, depending on level of clearance. While not perfect, we are comfortable we have an adequate level of precaution and review regarding our people."

Responding to a comment that homeland security appears as "one giant organizational mess" because of major cutbacks in airport security--which months earlier the government deemed important--and the fuss over duct tape and plastic to safeguard against chemical attacks, Cooper said the department is on the right track. "My 16-year-old daughter shares your concern and advices me on this every day," he said.

Cooper contends that the nation is safer than it was a year ago, noting that no terrorist incident has occurred in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, and that a number of al-Qaida operatives and other terrorists have been arrested. "We are doing a great many things right and the country, you, and your family are safer that a year ago," he said. "Having said that, we are also acutely aware that we have more to do. We're not letting red tape get in the way of the things we must do quickly to make us all safer. We are addressing chemical and bioterrorism and have increased our detection capability across the country and at points of entry."

The CIO addressed a number of other matters:

• Among his top priorities for the department: complete its enterprise architecture and road map, a first version of which should be available by September; integrate various governmental terrorist watch lists and distribute the integrated list to local law-enforcement agencies; create an information-exchange environment with the first-responder community; share threat and intelligence information with local law enforcement; and determine and model critical infrastructure risks.

• The department is taking a two-pronged approach to integrating the 22 agencies that form the Homeland Security Department. "In the short term," Cooper said, "we'll go with whatever we can do quickly and safely--meaning limit any harm to mission capability and delivery of service. Longer term, we are moving to simplify and unify our IT world--this means both integration and replacement with single solutions." In addition, he said, the first version of Homeland Security's enterprise architecture should be ready by September.

• The department expects to hire skilled IT professionals later this year. "We're in the process of doing a skills inventory across IT within the department [and] hope to be complete this summer," Cooper said. "This will help us identify skills gaps, and we will then look to hire. These jobs will be posted on Office of Personnel Management's site and our dhs.gov site."

• Homeland Security is working with the Treasury and Justice departments to create an integrated wireless network and with Health and Human Services and Energy to create systems to address biological, chemical, and radiological threats.

• The government is moving to a single identity credential and smart card for physical and logical access to facilities and computers and their data.

Answering a question about getting federal, state, and local governments to collaborate on implementing geospatial information systems programs, Cooper jokingly suggested bribes. "Seriously," he continued, "the way forward is a combination of shared objectives and dollars. We must find common ground that state and local governments need every day to run their environments that we could use in case of a terrorist incident. This way we have a win-win for the fed-state-local-tribal governments."

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