DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to Americans: Cyber-Security is a Group Effort

Homeland Security secretary tells viewers in a live webcast that securing cyber-space is everyone's job.

by / October 21, 2009

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke to the nation in a live Web address on Oct. 20 to spread the spirit of collaboration when it comes to securing the digital networks that support our modern way of life.

"Just as with our nation's preparedness for natural disasters or terrorist attacks, our nation's cyber-security is a shared responsibility," she said.

Napolitano began her address at 11 a.m. Eastern in a video that was broadcast straight from her department's Web site before answering questions from the public. She made the case that threats to the digital world threaten things we hold dear.

"If a predator is seeking to contact your children through an online social network, that's not a cyber-crime to you. It's a threat to the safety and security of your loved ones and your family," she said. "If your account numbers are stolen by an online spoof site pretending to be your real bank, that's no longer a computer issue. It's your ability to pay your mortgage next week and buy groceries."

Consequently we'd better be proactive in the fight for cyber-integrity. She recommended education children about staying safe online, but beyond that, her computer hygiene tips didn't go beyond the basics. The steps included having good firewalls and up-to-date anti-malware software, automatic operation system and application patches, avoiding suspect Web sites and downloads, not opening e-mail from strangers, using strong passwords and backing up files regularly.

Napolitano also spoke of the federal government's efforts in securing the cyber-arena, which involved cooperation with private corporations that have a major stake in cyber-space.

"This kind of partnership with the private sector can provide a model for deeper engagement ... engagement to protect our nation's critical infrastructure," she said. "That infrastructure is heavily reliant on networks, and the vast majority of it, some estimate around 85 percent, is in private hands."

The federal family of agencies -- including the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, also known as CERT, and the National Cyber Security Center -- is working closely together to protect citizen networks. Napolitano offered examples.

"We're reducing and consolidating the number of external connections federal agencies have to the Internet through the Trusted Internet Connections initiative," she said. "Then, we're implementing DHS's intrusion detection capability, known as EINSTEIN, to those Trusted Internet Connections."

Napolitano compared the government's mission to secure cyber-space to past scientific challenges like getting to the moon or sequencing the human genome.

When asked by a Daniel from New York if she felt there was a need for a Cabinet position on cyber-security, Napolitano said she didn't.

"Cyber runs through everything that we do as a government, so it's really hard to segregate it out. In fact, I think one of the things we're learning as we enter this new cyber-arena is that segregating it into an IT or IT function no longer is adequate," she said.

The full transcript of the address is available.


Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.