recommended reading

Defense cyber chief downplays need to resolve lines of authority

A senior Pentagon official Wednesday downplayed the need to define clear lines of authority for federal agencies involved in combating cybersecurity threats, saying the emphasis has shifted toward having agencies work more closely together.

The Obama administration has ramped up efforts aimed at getting agencies to better coordinate their cybersecurity activities, even though questions persist over each agency's role and responsibilities and what authority they should have to defend computer and other information technology networks.

"People get focused on the authorities. In spite of the authorities, we've got problems," said Robert Butler, who left Computer Sciences Corp. last year to become the deputy assistant Defense secretary in charge of cyber policy.

During a breakfast with reporters, Butler said the administration has been shifting its focus toward determining what it wants agencies to accomplish, rather than first defining the lines of authority.

Just last week, for example, the Defense and Homeland Security departments announced an agreement under which they will share resources and colocate personnel at the secretive National Security Agency.

The agreement "was another step on our journey to a partnership with DHS," Butler said, adding that it "sets up an opportunity for DHS to take advantage of" DoD technical expertise.

"DoD's focus is really about getting into the mix," he said. "We want to get into the game with DHS and begin to practice this."

Butler acknowledged that much work remains to define operational roles and responsibilities of both agencies. For now, he said, a major goal is improving "situational awareness," or the ability to know when networks are under attack and, when possible, where an attack is coming from.

He said protecting privately owned critical infrastructure networks, such those of electrical companies and financial institutions, is "clearly" the responsibility of DHS. But he did not rule out a role for DoD in protecting those networks. DHS could request assistance from the Pentagon if needed, he said.

But Butler said determining the origin of an attack, commonly referred to as attribution, is still a major problem. And the administration is "grappling" with how to measure the seriousness and intention of an attack, he added.

Butler also said officials are considering the idea of creating a secure network that could shield government and privately owned networks from attacks. Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who is both NSA director and head of the newly created U.S. Cyber Command, has put forward the concept of a secure zone, which has been dubbed "dot-secure."

"That is one idea in a series of operating concepts," Butler said.

Threatwatch Alert

Social Media Takeover

Qatar News Agency Says Hackers Published Fake Stories

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.