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IG finds cybersecurity unit lacks authority, manpower

A key government team responsible for preventing and responding to cybersecurity attacks lacks the authority to ensure that federal agencies are properly protecting their information technology networks and has insufficient staffing to perform its missions, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general is expected to tell Congress today.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team also has not developed a strategic plan laying out its goals, DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner says.

The team is hindered in a number of ways in its ability to effectively manage its cybersecurity responsibilities, Skinner says in his prepared testimony for a House Homeland Security Committee hearing today, a copy of which was obtained by CongressDaily.

Aware of Skinner's findings, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, used their hearing Tuesday to tout a sweeping cybersecurity measure they introduced last week.

Lieberman said he expects to mark up the bill next week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., intends to merge competing cybersecurity bills into one piece of legislation and bring it to the Senate floor this year, Lieberman said.

Philip Reitinger, a Homeland Security undersecretary, found himself in the hot seat during Lieberman's committee hearing when he acknowledged that the government cannot completely protect critical IT systems and prevent attacks.

But Reitinger said Homeland Security is moving "very rapidly" and making progress on several fronts.

"We simply do not live in a sustainable environment right now," he said. "The system is fundamentally insecure and needs to change."

Reitinger said the department is deploying a technology system called "Einstein" to federal agencies to help detect and stop electronic attacks. He said Einstein will be deployed to protect key networks at 19 federal agencies by the end of September.

In his prepared testimony for today's House hearing, Skinner cites problems with the Einstein system.

"According to US-CERT officials, many agencies have not installed Einstein because they have not consolidated their gateways to the Internet," Skinner says. "Further, some agencies have fragmented networks and must upgrade their architectures before Einstein can be deployed."

US-CERT does not have an automated correlation tool to identify threat trends and anomalies, Skinner will say at today's hearing, which was requested by Republicans more than three months ago.

Overall, Skinner plans to tell lawmakers, "US-CERT does not have the appropriate enforcement authority to ensure that agencies comply with mitigation guidance concerning threats and vulnerabilities."

"Without this authority, US-CERT is limited in its ability to mitigate effectively ever-evolving security threats and vulnerabilities," Skinner says.

US-CERT has made some progress in detecting and stopping cybersecurity attacks, but it has not formalized its goals and objectives and lacks staff to perform its operations and analyze security information in a timely manner, Skinner says.

Lieberman and Collins say they wrote their cybersecurity bill to improve the government's capabilities. Among other things, it would create a Senate-confirmed cybersecurity official in the White House and a new cybersecurity center within the Homeland Security Department.

It also would give the federal government emergency authority to take IT systems offline in dire situations when no other option is available. Collins said the government now relies on authorities granted under a communications law passed during World War II, which she called "wholly lacking."

But it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration supports any cybersecurity legislation. And the administration may resist requiring Senate confirmation of any White House cybersecurity coordinator.

Reitinger said he was not in a position to discuss the administration's views on pending legislation. "I would say there are a lot of legal questions that have not been answered," he said.

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