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Cyber Security Gets Limelight in DHS Reorg

Elevating the bureaucratic status of cyber security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is part of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's sweeping reforms announced Wednesday.

Currently, cyber security is coordinated at DHS by the director of the National Cyber Security Division, which resides in the department's Infrastructure Protection Directorate. The technology industry has long complained cyber security deserves equal billing with physical security.

Under Chertoff's plan, a new Assistant Secretary for Cyber security and Telecommunications will be responsible for identifying and assessing the vulnerability of critical telecommunications infrastructure and assets.

In addition, the new office will be charged with providing "timely, actionable and valuable" threat information and leading the national response to cyber and telecommunications attacks.

Chertoff also called for increased information sharing as one of six DHS reorganization priorities. The other priorities include preparedness, border security, transportation security, department management and adjustments to better meet DHS' homeland security mission.

"The ability to share information with our state and local partners, the private sector, law enforcement and first responders is absolutely critical to our success," Chertoff said. "Otherwise, we are effectively tying the hands of those who are on the ground and charged with the responsibility of protecting their community, their neighbors and their families."

Chertoff promised to invite "every state homeland security advisor and every state emergency management coordinator" to Washington for working sessions to discuss information exchange protocols and other topics of mutual concern.

"We recognize the need for better and more inclusive information sharing. Information sharing is a two-way street," he added.

But it was Chertoff's call for greater cyber security awareness at the DHS that drew floods of praise and statements from the technology industry.

Robert Holleyman of the Business Software Alliance called Chertoff's plan "much needed" and "innovative."

"The plan unveiled by [DHS] serves as a profound step in the right direction, specifically through the establishment of new senior positions with responsibility over cyber security and critical infrastructure protection," Holleyman said.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), said Chertoff's cyber security reorganization plan was "terrific news."

"ITAA has called for the creation of a cyber security czar for more than five years. We think the challenges of cyber security are special and different, and we are gratified?Chertoff shares that view," he said. "We also believe that focusing the job on cyber security and telecommunications makes good sense given the on-going convergence of IT and telecommunications."

Miller said special challenges justify elevating the role of cyber security at DHS, including managing a national cyber response system and a national program to reduce cyber security threats and vulnerabilities.

"The nation's critical infrastructures, including water, chemicals, transportation, energy, financial services, health care and others, rely significantly on computer networks to deliver the services that maintain our safety and national economy," Miller said.

"It therefore is incumbent on the owners and operators of those critical infrastructures to manage improvements in the security of their information systems and to have a senior individual within the government?who can coordinate collaborative efforts across critical infrastructure sectors and with state and local governments."