Napolitano asks for reports on cybersecurity, border protection

New homeland security secretary wants DHS offices to describe their authority to protect public and private networks, and their relationships with other agencies.

The newly appointed secretary of the Homeland Security Department asked specific offices in the agency on Friday to submit reports outlining the state of cybersecurity in government and the private sector as well as the security along the U.S. border with Canada.

Janet Napolitano, confirmed as DHS secretary on Tuesday, wasted no time issuing a set of directives, including one that instructs unnamed DHS offices to provide oral and written reports detailing the offices' authorities and responsibilities for protecting public and private sector networks; the relationships the offices have with other agencies, especially the Defense, Energy and Treasury departments, and the National Security Agency; and the programs and time frames to achieve their objectives. Napolitano wants the offices to present oral reports by Feb. 3 and written reports are due by Feb. 17.

"I'm pretty sure this one came from the transition team as a way for the new secretary to get a handle on what DHS is doing," said Jim Lewis, director and senior fellow for the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But they have to break with the past. If they keep trying to do what the previous administration did, only better, it still won't work."

In per previous post as governor of Arizona, Napolitano created the Statewide Information Security and Privacy Office to protect the state's networks and to create business practices that improved security. While serving as Arizona's attorney general, she created the computer crimes unit to train law enforcement on how to identify and investigate cybercrimes.

Napolitano also issued a directive instructing DHS offices to submit reports detailing vulnerabilities along the border with Canada; the strategy to reduce them, including the requirements, programs, budgets and time frames for improving security; and the level of risk that will remain once the programs are completed. Oral reports on the northern border security are to be presented by Feb. 10 and written reports are due by Feb. 17.

Customs and Border Protection plans to schedule a media update this month on its Secure Border Initiative, an integrated system of border fencing that includes a high-tech surveillance system consisting of radars, cameras and ground sensors connected by a wireless satellite network along a 28-mile section in southern Arizona. SBI has been criticized, causing some to question whether the program will survive in its current form.

"The overriding and urgent mission of the United States Department of Homeland Security is contained in the name of the agency itself," Napolitano said during her nomination hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "To secure the homeland means to protect our nation's borders by finding and killing the roots of terrorism and to stop those who intend to hurt us; to wisely enforce the rule of law at our borders; to protect our national cyber infrastructure; and to prepare for and respond to natural and man-caused disasters with speed, skill, compassion and effectiveness."

Napolitano also issued directives this week that asked for oral and written reports from agencies on their efforts to protect the nation's critical infrastructures, including those of the telecommunications, chemical and transportation sectors; to develop a system of risk analysis for critical systems; promote intelligence sharing with state and local governments; secure air, surface and maritime transportation; and to integrate federal security policies with those of state, local and tribal governments.

The directives are intended, Napolitano said, to "unify our shared efforts and help me assess where improvements need to be made."