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DHS Races to Get Obama’s Signature on Cyber Response Plan

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The Homeland Security Department wants to make sure an updated plan for how the government responds to major cyberattacks is set in stone before President Barack Obama leaves office, a DHS official said today.

The alternative is leaving the country with a 6-year-old interim plan while a new presidential administration settles in and forcing final approval of the new plan to battle for attention with hundreds of other priorities facing a new administration, Bridgette Walsh, a cyber branch chief with DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate, told members of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board.

“I think we owe it to the public,” Walsh said. “I think we owe it to the nation to show that there are a lot of big brains who have been thinking about this for many years and we are not all sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next attack.”

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The draft version of the 2016 National Cyber Incident Response Plan updates its predecessor in myriad ways including incorporating new legislation and directives as well as bureaus and offices that didn’t even exist in 2010 such as the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, which is now the lead intelligence support agency during significant cyberattacks and breaches.  

The CTIIC, which launched in 2015, is essentially a clearing house for intelligence information about cyber threats modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center.

The plan update was required by Presidential Policy Directive 41, which Obama issued in July and focuses on cyber incident response.

The draft plan is out for public comment through the end of October. Walsh’s goal is for the plan to reach the White House before Christmas so Obama can sign it before his successor is inaugurated Jan. 20, she said.

If that doesn’t happen, Walsh hopes to receive an interim White House approval before inauguration day so the government can operate using the 2016 update rather than its 2010 predecessor, which also only has interim approval.

Otherwise, it could be a long wait.

“It doesn’t matter who wins, Republican or Democrat, you just have a learning curve and the [National Cyber Incident Response Plan] is not going to be the first thing that’s going to be on their desk,” she said. “It’s going to be ISIS, it’s going to be all these other things, just a firehose of information.”

The official due date to approve the new plan is Jan. 22. 

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