Ridge statement sows confusion on cybersecurity chief

The technology industry stands behind its call for an assistant secretary for cybersecurity in the Homeland Security Department, even as confusion grows over what the department is planning.

The department is backpedaling on Tuesday's comments from Homeland Secretary Secretary Tom Ridge that the cybersecurity position would be elevated to an assistant secretary with responsibility over telecommunications. Homeland Security Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Wednesday that the department "believes the position needs to be elevated but is still working out the details and specifics."

"We're in the final stages," he said, doing it "concurrently with reviewing the House intelligence reform legislation" that would elevate the post to an assistant secretary with responsibility for the National Communications System.

Ridge told the National Infrastructure Advisory Council on Tuesday that the department is preparing to make the director of the national cybersecurity division an assistant secretary. That would put cybersecurity on par with the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, who currently oversees the issue.

Department officials since have told reporters that Ridge misspoke. A department source said Homeland Security actually is leaning toward making the cybersecurity director a deputy assistant secretary but has not ruled out the assistant-secretary level.

But there has been no public announcement recanting Ridge's comments to senior technology executives. That has left industry executives confused because they heard Ridge make his remark publicly but have seen no retraction other than in press reports.

The difference in the level for the cybersecurity post is significant to industry, which sees a deputy assistant secretary as little to no change from the current situation, which recently contributed to the abrupt departure of cybersecurity director Amit Yoran.

Several key industry associations sent a letter to House leaders last week arguing that the assistant-secretary level is the "appropriate solution" to an issue that they said requires greater attention, as part of the war against terrorism. The signers included the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA), Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and TechNet.

CSIA President Paul Kurtz said on Wednesday that he still stands behind the letter.

Without cybersecurity, there is no physical security," said Dexter Ingram, BSA's director of information security policy. "Therefore, the elevation of cyber security within [the department] is critical to America's national security strategy." BSA favors an assistant secretary, he said.

"We need a full-time government official at a sufficiently high level in the Department of Homeland Security focused solely on cyber security, with the clout to take America's information infrastructure off of the table for terrorists," ITAA President Harris Miller said. "We support the creation of an assistant secretary for cyber security." Miller said ITAA was the first organization to call for the creation of a "cybersecurity czar."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.