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DHS grilled over uber secret cybersecurity plans

Too much confusion, senators say

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The US Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity initiative may be unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy and too reliant on contractors, according to a Senate panel.

The concerns are so basic that the panel also included questions asking what, exactly, is the role of program and why a determination was even made to start it. The program was unveiled in January as the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC).

"The Department’s plan to use contractor personnel to support the initiative merits some scrutiny in light of this Committee’s past work in this area," US Senators Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, the chairman and ranking member respectively on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, wrote. They said a recent RFP (request for proposal) issued by DHS failed to describe the roles and responsibilities of contractors or specify how they would be monitored.

"We also have concerns about how information has been shared with Congress and other stakeholders concerning this initiative and the potential impact this lack of collaboration may have on the success of the initiative," they added. The senators acknowledged that some aspects of the program need to remain confidential, but as things stand, the lack of information concerning NCSC may be creating too much confusion.

"Given the broad nature and goals of this initiative, agencies may be less likely to plan for their future information technology needs, fearing that systems they purchase might not comply with the initiative," they said.

The DHS has been accused of stinginess with basic details about what it does before. In February, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others sued the DHS after the agency refused to turn over documents pertaining to searches of electronic data at US borders. The vacuum of information about when border agents search laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices and what they do and don't do with the data they seize, has resulted in a warning to leave customer lists and other sensitive data at home.

The DHS has requested another $83m NCSC to take funding up to nearly $200m.

The senators also voiced concern about the lack of involvement of private sector players who own substantial pieces of internet infrastructure.

"Given their expertise, and the role that private industry must necessarily play in securing government and private sector networks, we urge you to ensure that they are appropriately involved in this initiative," they state. ®

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