DHS S&T and CISA Forge Deep Partnership in Emerging Tech R&D

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The Department of Homeland Security components are working more closely than ever to understand emerging technologies’ prospects and threats.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Science and Technology Directorate are working closely together to focus on the application of emerging technologies in a “symbiotic relationship” to better respond to national security concerns.

Officials from both agencies spoke during a GovCon discussion Tuesday, illuminating the joint effort to test and deploy emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, and data modeling and simulation.

“Emerging technologies are really coming into focus especially…with CISA and working with S&T. The relationship I would say now, is, is extremely, extremely close,” said Garfield Jones, the associate chief of strategic technology at CISA. 

Jones further explained that more operational technologies and capabilities are arising from the research within the S&T. He highlighted the current demand for technologies ready to be incorporated into areas threatened by national security concerns, namely U.S. infrastructure. 

“Infrastructure is in the [CISA] name,” he said. “We focused on that infrastructure part, we focused on the threat…to the infrastructure, to the nation. We’re starting to take more of that, that advisory and risk-advisory role.”

Working with S&T, CISA is gauging the emerging technologies potentially ready for use and developing policies to prepare for their advent. 

In terms of use cases, optimization is one of the primary applications. Adam Cox, the director of S&T’s Strategy and Policy Office, said that all of the emerging tech applications are implementing existing systems, like UAVs, to improve their operations. 

Fellow agencies that S&T has worked with to incorporate new technologies include the Departments of Defense, Treasury and Justice. 

“We've been really good at taking things that DOD has developed and adapting them to our needs, and figuring out how to apply them in a homeland security mission or a larger DOD offensive capability,” Cox said. 

He added that S&T’s research portfolio doesn’t just service the government, but key operations like emergency response and public infrastructure. 

“We're developing technology for not just people within the department that are our departmental brother and sister agencies, but this larger community, this homeland security enterprise…that is looking for technology to keep officers safe, to protect the bridges and power stations and financial institutions,” he said.

CISA still broadly oversees the cyber-specific applications of emerging technologies developed between both agencies. Jones added that malware and threat detection, as well as incorporating a user experience component, are two aspects that will inform how CISA tailors emerging tech systems into its mission suit. 

Fellow panelist Donald Coulter, a senior cybersecurity advisor within DHS, added that the CISA partnership is looking to impact departmental cybersecurity operations related to data protection and open source software security. 

“We're doing great work and working with transitioning stuff and capabilities, not only to CISA and to our department partners, but also working with industry and community to transition to make things available to the broader community,” Coulter said. 

Buzzier emerging technologies, namely quantum encryption systems, are also on the research docket across the agency. Coulter said that despite quantum technology’s ambiguous future, DHS is looking into fortifying the security architecture of classical computing networks ahead of a viable quantum computer. 

“We're looking at all angles of that challenge,” he said. Amid the all-encompassing nature of post-quantum cryptography—including gauging risk, updating current encryption schemes, and identifying high-risk assets—DHS is also looking to capitalize on some promises of quantum information systems. 

Coulter specified that quantum-enabled communications and computing architectures “gives us an opportunity to really look at challenging problems from a different perspective and be able to develop solutions much more quickly, much more completely and robustly, allows us opportunities to change the way we communicate and give us opportunities to communicate more securely, resiliently, and identify when adversaries may be trying to eavesdrop.”

Jones added that CISA is also working to help organizations protect their systems from powerful quantum algorithms that can break through standard encryption.

“Once you've developed a cryptographically relevant quantum computer, which may be anywhere from five to 10 years out, there's [a] good possibility to really damage the encryption that we currently use today,” he said. “And so, we have to prepare for that possibility.”