Homeland Security has no plans to update cybersecurity strategy

Plan issued in 2003 is flawed, but time isn't ripe to change it yet, says cybersecurity chief.

The time for reviewing the federal cybersecurity strategy has not come yet despite flaws that need to be addressed, a top official said Thursday.

"There is no effort to update" the strategy issued by the White House early in 2003, said Amit Yoran, director of the Homeland Security Department cyber-security division. The strategy was identified as a "snapshot in time," he said.

Yoran said after a speech at a SecureE-Biz.net conference that new issues have arisen since the strategy was released, such as a focus on securing "control systems" for infrastructure like chemical manufacturing or power systems. In addition, he acknowledged that problems exist in areas such as information-sharing analysis centers for various sectors and full industry support for federal efforts.

Another area of concern is the performance of the national cyber-alert system, which Yoran said is "mixed." For instance, he said some people think the technical alerts issued under the system are too technical.

The government is trying to find the right amount of alerts to send. "We're trying to walk the balance between not crying wolf and focusing people's attention on key issues," he said. At the same time, the government continues to offer information for experts about computer worms, viruses and other issues that occur.

"It is not the government's intention to be the first one out there to say, 'Hey, something is going on,'" he said. "The private sector has a finely tuned machine" for that purpose, and the government works collaboratively with it.

Generally, the federal government has approached cybersecurity in a two-pronged effort, Yoran said. Experts are working to improve preparedness for problems, meaning better identification of attacks and dissemination of information and security patches.

He said the other approach is strategic, as opposed to tactical, and involves trying to break the "vicious cycle" of the traditional "cat and mouse" game of trying to catch attackers. "We have to make a focused and strategic effort if this cycle is ever to end," he said.

The private sector is key to that success, Yoran said, and the agency is working to encourage improved software development with more secure code, and to improve evaluation methods for finding bugs and malicious code sent by developers, whether they are foreign or domestic.

He said Homeland Security will continue to invest in that, as well as ways to counter cyber crime, test data sets and improve methods for the economic analysis of cyber attacks. "We're looking at technology as the soft underbelly of all the nation's critical infrastructure," Yoran said.

Homeland Security works within an interagency group that includes all agencies with significant cybersecurity authority, including the Defense and State departments, the National Security Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Despite problems, the department will continue to rely on market forces to drive improvement in cyber security, Yoran said. "We're early in these market influences to say we're ready to cut bait in terms of our policies."