Homeland Security moves full-speed-ahead on Einstein cybersecurity tool

Department plans to finish installing the somewhat controversial network monitoring part of the system this year, secretary says in State of the Union-like address.

The Homeland Security Department will finish by 2012 installing a somewhat controversial system, called Einstein 2, that monitors traffic on federal computer networks for potential intrusions, and will start the next phase of the application, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said during an address on the state of the agency.

The delivery began what she said will become an annual tradition akin to the president's State of the Union speech. Napolitano's remarks touched on the status and future of missions related to counterterrorism; border security and immigration; cybersecurity, science and technology; resilience and response; and recruiting.

Einstein 2 alerts the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team to respond whenever it detects unauthorized users trying to access government systems. Einstein 3, which DHS began testing last year, automatically responds to certain threats. Privacy advocates have raised concerns that the extent of Einstein's information sharing is unknown because parts of the initiative are classified. But according to the department's privacy assessment, personnel have access to a limited amount of information on network traffic, and cannot see the content of that traffic.

Napolitano also pledged to improve the accuracy of e-Verify, the online system that U.S. employers can use to check the immigration status of potential hires. Federal contractors, the only private sector employers required to use the tool, have complained that e-Verify contains mistakes about the legal status of applicants and is susceptible to tampering.

"We're working to make e-Verify all that it can be to help businesses ensure a legal workforce," she said. "We will roll out the E-Verify Self Check, which will enable prospective workers to check their employment authorization status."

Napolitano said the department will begin switching from a paper-based method of processing immigration applications to a computerized program. Since 2008, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau has spent $613 million developing the so-called Transformation project to consolidate and automate the various filing systems.

But the project encountered managerial difficulties last year and, as of Friday, was listed as an "eliminated" initiative on the IT Dashboard, a federal website that tracks the progress of major information technology investments governmentwide.

"There are no changes whatsoever to the USCIS Transformation efforts," agency spokesman Christopher Bentley said. "We continue to move forward."