Tech industry doubts about focus on cybersecurity linger

For some lobbyists, the fact that the Homeland Security Department chose to outline its new cybersecurity division's place on the bureaucratic ladder on a Friday afternoon last week was not a coincidence. It signaled to them that cybersecurity issues are not the highest priority as the department's leaders work to morph 22 agencies into a working organization.

"They always seem to make their cyber announcements at the very last minute on Fridays, when no one is paying attention and members are out of town," said one high-tech lobbyist, who noted that the final strategy on cybersecurity also was released on a Friday afternoon in February, with little notice to press or industry.

The timing of the announcement comes after other developments on the cybersecurity front that have concerned such lobbyists.

On March 1, when the White House dissolved the Critical Infrastructure Protection Board (CIPB), which wrote the cyber strategy, no replacement for the board's leadership was named. Cybersecurity experts in the high-tech world were left guessing the direction of the administration's cybersecurity policy for months. Some lobbyists said it was because the administration originally had no plan to create a cyber division within Homeland Security.

Also in March, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told Congress that cybersecurity is important but that he sees it as intertwined with physical security. According to sources, Howard Schmidt, then co-chair of the CIPB, met with Ridge to argue that a senior person was needed within the department to oversee cybersecurity alone, but Ridge's staff was not convinced of that need, one lobbyist said. Schmidt left his position at the White House last month to join eBay.

"There was a group of senior officials ... that believed cybersecurity is no different than water or energy security ... and that cyber shouldn't be given some special carve-out," one lobbyist said. That source added that some people in the administration believed that cries about impending technology problems, like the outcries about the Year 2000 computer glitch, were overblown.

Meanwhile, high-tech lobbyists and several prominent lawmakers-such as House Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va.- continued to push the administration and Homeland Security officials to create a senior cybersecurity position.

In the end, the two met in the middle. The department created a 60-person cyber division-but not at the senior level that the tech industry had wanted.

Robert Liscouski, the assistant Homeland Security secretary for infrastructure protection, said last week that the cyber division would have been "dysfunctional" anywhere else within the department and assured the high-tech sector that Ridge will be actively involved in cyber policy.

Now lobbyists are guessing who will be named as director of the division. That speculation has centered on: Michael Aisenberg, VeriSign's director of public policy; Julia Allen, technical staff member of the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University; Kathy Burton, a former National Communications System official; Computer Sciences Corp. Vice President Guy Copeland; and Oracle Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson.