Shortage of computer security experts hampers agencies

Bush administration officials and information technology industry experts on Thursday identified areas of cybersecurity that need to be addressed, including more research and development and the training of the next generation of cyber experts in government.

"There is an incredibly shrinking pool of IT security professionals in government," said Jack Johnson, chief security officer at the Homeland Security Department. "The bench is not just thin; the bench is non-existent," he added in a sports reference to backup players. "We need to train the next generation" of IT professionals.

Johnson said Homeland Security does not have the IT workforce to build the systems it needs and is "absolutely dependent" on help from the research and academic communities. The department contracts a lot of work outside government, he said, but there are a limited number of cleared contractors and high turnover of personnel.

Johnson said he and Homeland Security Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper decided soon after the department's creation last year that Johnson would handle the classified material and Cooper the unclassified. Johnson is working on developing the Homeland Security Information Network, which he said would be at Defense Department "secret level" by year's end. He also said Homeland Security is looking to redesign personnel security to prevent internal cyber attacks.

Thomas O'Keefe, deputy director of the Federal Aviation Administration office of information systems security, said more research and development, and more collaboration among researchers and industry, is needed on cybersecurity.

"The sharing amongst bad guys is growing," he said at a SecureE-Biz.net conference. "The sharing amongst the good guys on procurement, technology and approach needs to grow at an equal or greater rate. My observation is we're just not as good at it."

O'Keefe said firms are reluctant to mention their vulnerabilities because it may "unnecessarily put concern in people's minds." His office is working with the National Science Foundation to boost cyber-security research, as it is "still very small," he said. He and others on the panel predicted continually growing cyber attacks. "You've got to expect cyber storms," he said.

The president last year signed a law authorizing a significant increase in cyber-security R&D funding, but it was not requested in the fiscal 2005 White House budget proposal.

O'Keefe also said the nation's air-traffic control system does not have viral outbreaks. The air-traffic network is completely separate from the Internet, as well as other aspects of the FAA network, making it impossible for viruses to spread from those sources, he said.

The modernization of the air-traffic network will include putting it on Internet protocol, though still not tying it to the Internet, and the agency will subject it to intensive testing and structuring for security, he said. That certification process can be applied to all new technologies, he added.

Tom Kupiec of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency said incentives are needed for telecommunications and electricity companies to make network functions more redundant.

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