Homeland security is a very big job - encompassing everything from border control to cybersecurity to staving off nuclear attacks - and it can't be done without better reliance on technology and better coordination between the federal government and state and local officials and law enforcement, Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a speech last week
Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in Santa Clara, Calif., last week, just two weeks after he announced a major restructuring of DHS
, Chertoff spoke in some depth about the new post of Assistant Secretary of Cyber and Telecommunications, as well as DHS' plans to use technology to handle such issues as border security, attack detection, transportation security, and mass transit.
As a result of a department-wide review, Chertoff said, he realized that cybersecurity is a critical aspect of the security portfolio and that DHS needed to elevate the importance of cybersecurity. In his address to tech leaders, he explained:
This position will serve to support the security of the resources so critical to our nation and so fundamental to the work many of you do here in Silicon Valley. This is a position the tech community has recommended and asked for – we listened to that input and acted upon it – and we will continue to be open to your suggestions so we can better work together on our shared challenges.
Going forward, the Assistant Secretary for Cyber and Telecom will play an integral part as we implement our information technology infrastructure protection plan, as well as prepare for a large scale cyber security exercise this November to test our preparedness.
The many jobs government needs to do for cybersecurity include:
- maintaining and enhancing a "robust cyberspace response system";
- improving information exchange and working relationships between government and industry;
- integrating "cyber priorities into our infrastructure protection plans and prepar[ing] ourselves to respond to new technology threats.
He emphasized that while there is a lot government has done and can do, digital networks are mostly in the hands of the private sector, so public-private coordination is critical. DHS is working on a National Infrastructure Protection Plan that offers plans and protocols for 17 infrastructure sectors including information technology.
But computer networks are a layer of infrastructure across society and require an integrated approach. "For example, power grids, water treatment facilities, financial institutions all of these utilize computer systems and software to operate," Chertoff said, "so we have to coordinate closely to ensure the systems that are making our infrastructure assets more efficient do not expose them to vulnerabilities a terrorist could exploit. "
In addition, Chertoff covered the technology goals in a number of specific area:
On working with state and local governments
DHS' recently prepared National Preparedness Goals -- and additional, risk-based planning -- "will form our standard in allocating future DHS grants to our state and local partners so that we build the right capabilities in the right places at the right level." He emphasized the role of technology in prevention, protection, response, and recovery.
Strengthening the protection of our valued infrastructure does not rest solely in the hands of the federal government. Local government agencies have valuable resources and experience that allow them to share in the responsibility for security. So, too, does private industry. We must unleash these resources.
On border control
"We are developing a new approach to controlling the border, one that includes an integrated mix of additional staff, new technology and enhanced infrastructure investment. And we are considering changes to the entire border security system, from initial detection and apprehension to detention and eventual removal."
On transportation security
He pushed the use of biometrics and RFID to speed identification of individuals, and "sophisticated tracking and detection protocols" to secure cargo without slowing its movement. "With greater use of technology, increased information sharing, and more targeted intelligence gathering – we will have a high degree of confidence and trust, so that low-risk passengers and cargo don't have to be stopped at every point along the way to be re-vetted and rechecked," he said.
On mass transit
He said: "To make mass transit systems more secure, we need an effective partnership between Federal, state, and local officials that builds on the strengths and resources that each can offer – and that understands the unique architecture of each local system."
He called for speedups in R&D and deployment of biological, chemical, radiological and explosives detection. He added, "We will continue to apply our sophisticated tools to aid localities in identifying and strengthening specific vulnerabilities in their transportation networks."