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DHS's Greg Garcia in the hot seat

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

You mentioned the important thing being protecting ourselves against an attack wherever it may come from and whoever may be behind it. Are offensive cyber attacks, sort of counter DDoSes, counter unleashing of malware - are those things included in the way DHS should go about protecting the country?

Our mission is protective, so we're protecting the homeland, we're protecting our networks. You've seen articles recently where the Air Force cyber command is talking about stepping up its offensive capabilities. DOD is really the most active in that area, but DHS we're protective.

If you see a botnet attacking important infrastructure, is taking that botnet out or attacking it one way of protecting ourselves?

There are some things we don't want to talk about in open forums, but we do partner with various agencies across the government who have different equities in cyber security, different activities in cyber security and we work together to help each other, particularly making sure that DHS knows what's coming into federal networks so we can take protective actions.

There's been some discussion about how to deal with radical jihadi groups that are online and websites that perhaps are spreading jihadi propaganda. One idea is shut them down and another idea is don't shut them down [but rather] study them, monitor them. Shutting them down only drives them underground and then you don't know what the enemy is thinking or doing. Where do you stand on that?

DHS's mission is about protecting our networks. We're not engaged in shutting down other networks. That's the purview of other agencies.

Does DHS consider the monitoring of groups like that part of its purview, in gathering intelligence and knowing if people are thinking about attacking or doing other things like that?

DHS is not an intelligence gatherer, so the effort that we have in the cyber initiative is helping federal agencies monitor what's going in and out of their own networks. We're not monitoring or gathering intelligence.

There has been a lot of evidence that attacks on national labs are using very sophisticated spear phishing. Is this something that's within DHS's purview to try to prevent, and if so what exactly are you doing?

The US CERT is the focal point for the information sharing about attacks. Last year US Cert received 37,000 incident reports, which is about a 55 per cent increase over FY 07 and most of those were phishing attacks just as you described. So it's our ability to receive that information, watch what's happening across federal networks using our Einstein intrusion detection capabilities and correlating, seeing what the patterns are.

As to that collection of anomalous traffic across networks that we're able to push the information back out to our to our federal agencies, to our state governments and to our private sector saying this is what we're seeing. Most recently, last fall, we were able to communicate through notices to our partners a variety of IP addresses that they need to be watching out for for that kind of attack. This is the primary role of the US CERT, which is to both receive information from all sources about what's happening on our networks, analyze it, synthesize it, correlate it, and then push it back out again in actionable formats that people can actually take action and say, OK got it, I'm going to plug this port and apply this patch. That's our value add.

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