Homeland Security chief outlines IT strategy to protect economy, nat'l security

The Secretary of Homeland Security addresses the growing number of attacks on cyber networks and the potential repercussions on the economy and national security.

SAN FRANCISCO---In the face of one massive security breach after another, bolstering cyber-security must be a partnership between federal government and the private sector, according to Secretary Jeh C. Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"The government does not have all the answers. Nor do we have all the talent by any means," admitted Johnson while speaking at the annual RSA Conference on Tuesday morning.

The reality is in 2015, cyber-security has become a mission of equal importance in defending the economy and national security on the ground alike, Johnson argued.

"We're only as strong as our weakest link," Johnson lamented, stressing that even "the most sophisticated" corporations and government agencies remain vulnerable to methods such as spear phishing. For example, even if just one employee opens one bad email, the whole network could become compromised.

Johnson outlined the latest developments for one of the Department's major projects to strengthen the federal government's IT security strategy: the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC, or N-KICK), first introduced in 2009.

"N-KICK is your primary pathway to provide cyber-threat indicators to the federal government," Johnson posited, explaining that reporting relationships are being realigned so there is more of a direct reporting structure and line directly to him.

Describing N-KICK as a "busy place" these days, Johnson noted the Center received approximately 97,000 incident reports from public and private sectors in fiscal 2014. He added that almost continually, a team is in the field making house calls to assess, diagnose and alleviate significant cyber incidents.

Cyber-security is all about speed, Johnson stressed. To demonstrate this, N-KICK recently deployed capability to automate indications for cyber-threats in a machine-readable format - five weeks ahead of the deadline.

New cyber-security support services for private sector firms are being shared with an initial set of companies now with plans to accept more applications from the private sector later this year.

The DHS will also be opening a satellite office in Silicon Valley specifically for this program soon.

"Cyber-security is a major priority for my boss, President Obama. It's a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security," assured Johnson. As DHS Secretary, he continued, advancing this mission is one of his top goals in office.

"Although I still use an iPod, I am learning," Johnson quipped.