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Some in tech industry critical of Bush administration's cybersecurity efforts

An effort within the Homeland Security Department to lift the cybersecurity directorship to a deputy assistant secretary level went nowhere, according to government and industry sources.

The issue of cybersecurity has not reached a satisfactory level of prominence in the Bush administration for some observers in the technology industry, and an elevation of the issue before the November presidential election is not likely, sources say.

"It's likely that we'll have to wait until after the election for there to be any real changes," said Tom Galvin, a vice president at information security firm VeriSign.

A provision to elevate the position of the Homeland Security Department's top specialist on cybersecurity from a director to an assistant secretary is stuck in an embattled House authorization bill. And an effort within the department in July to lift the directorship to a deputy assistant secretary level went nowhere, according to government and industry sources.

Cybersecurity currently falls under the responsibility of the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection in the directorate for information analysis and infrastructure protection.

In addition, a meeting of all stakeholders in the debate on the status of cybersecurity issues will not happen before the election, according to a department spokeswoman. The department is considering holding a one-year anniversary meeting of a December 2003 summit that gave momentum to the cyber-security issues, she said.

A dozen House Democrats sent a letter to department Secretary Tom Ridge in early August raising concerns about a vulnerability assessment on critical infrastructure and key assets, including "cyber infrastructure." They cited possible inconsistencies in the process for creating a database of some 33,000 critical assets and sites nationwide and requested a deadline for completion of the vulnerability assessment.

Key signers of the letter included: House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Turner. R-Texas; Zoe Lofgren. D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development Subcommittee; and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., the ranking member on the Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee.

But the government is working on cybersecurity issues. The White House Office of Management and Budget last week issued a memorandum that orders federal agency heads to set minimum information security standards as required under a 2002 law.

"This is the single-most useful thing the government has done to improve cybersecurity," said Alan Paller, the research director at the Sans Institute, a cybersecurity research and education organization.

Homeland Security's cyber division also has continued to work on issues but has not sought publicity for its efforts. For instance, it sent a progress report to the House Homeland Security Committee in June that has not been made public.

And earlier this month, the Energy Department announced that it and Homeland Security have opened a test center for the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). The center is a "key part" of a national initiative to enhance the security of computer-based control systems that support the operation of U.S. critical infrastructure, according to a release.

The Homeland Security cyber division is fully staffed, according to one department official. But it may be physically moving in the coming weeks, possibly to Arlington, Va., sources said.