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DHS cybersecurity boss fights back against critics

Shot by both sides

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The man in charge of running the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity efforts has defended its efforts in the face of congressional criticism.

Homeland Security undersecretary defends Robert Jamison, the man in charge of coordinated US government cybersecurity efforts on a day to day basis, told El Reg that criticism that the agency was poorly led and failing to deliver results came from lawmakers who were unfamiliar with the agency's operations or future plans. Efforts to harden systems against attack would proceed irrespective of the winner of next week's US presidential election, he added.

Jamison explained that the DHS was in the process of reducing the numbers of points of entry into US government networks from thousands to hundred of nodes. At the same time, it plans to add intrusion detection controls to .gov domains through a program dubbed Einstein 2. The DHS's cybersecurity budget has being tripled from 2007 to 2009 with the increased money earmarked for recruitment experts in malware and threat analysis in order, for example, to provide more timely and detailed alerts through the US CERT security clearing house.

The US cybersecurity boss said the strategy was in the process of being rolled out - a factor he suggested was not taken into account in congressional criticism. Jamison said he was surprised by the criticism, which he suggested was based on a lack on understanding on the DHS's efforts that he has since being able to correct. "A lot of the comments were based on past experience versus what we are doing now. They looked at a snapshot in time rather than assessing strategies that were already in place. They didn't have an accurate picture of where we're headed," Jamison told El Reg.

He added that a reorganisation of the agency's leadership, suggested during congressional hearing, would be counterproductive. Increased White House control was unnecessary, Jamison added, saying the DHS is already working closely with the Bush administration something it would "maintain in the transition" to the next president.

US government systems face a range of attacks from a broad spectrum of attackers, ranging from "entry-level hackers" through more organised cybercrooks and onto foreign governments. Jamison was reluctant to be drawn on details beyond talking about more targeted attacks and a greater diversity of threats.

Jamison's comments, made during an interview at the RSA Europe Conference on Wednesday, follow on from a blog entry last month defending the agency against criticism from Capitol Hill.

One critic, at least, remains unimpressed. Ira Winkler, president of ISAG, an ex-NSA officer who's become a cybercrime guru, said the DHS's efforts remained "disjointed and screwed up". Much of the US's critical national infrastructure is run by private sector organisations who are doing a bad job at securing their infrastructure. Winkler singled out power utility firms for particular criticism.

The DHS plans to reduce ingress points and add intrusion detection to government domains are "going in the right direction," but they're a decade behind early adopters. "Why are they only introducing this now? This is a decade late," he told El Reg. ®

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