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Hathaway advocates for direct White House role on cybersecurity

Says federal government isn't 'organized appropriately' to address cyberthreats

April 23, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- Endorsing a viewpoint that's been gaining currency in the security industry, President Obama's acting senior director for cyberspace Wednesday called for a more direct White House role in coordinating national cybersecurity efforts.

Melissa Hathaway, who just completed a 60-day review of the government's cybsersecurity preparedness at the president's behest, said that while cybersecurity needs to be a shared private and public sector effort, the task of leading it "is the fundamental responsibility of our government."

In arguing for a bigger White House role, Hathaway said the government's responsibility "transcends" the purviews of individual departments and agencies, none of which has a broad enough perspective to match the "sweep of the challenges."

"Protecting cyberspace requires strong vision and leadership and will require changes in policy, technology, education, and perhaps law," she said.

Hathaway is a former Bush administration aide who has been working as a cybercoordination executive for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She headed a multiagency group called the National Cyber Study Group that was instrumental in developing the Comprehensive National CyberSecurity Initiative which was approved by former President George W. Bush early last year.

In February, Obama asked her to conduct a review of federal cybersecurity programs to see what needed to be done to better align them with the threats they are designed to mitigate. She completed the review last Friday and her report was handed over to the president. It isn't known what if any recommendations might result from it.

Speaking at the RSA conference, Hathaway said that what she was offering was only a preview of what's contained in the report.

Based on her review, it's clear that the federal government is not "organized appropriately" to address threats in cyberspace, Hathaway said. Responsibilities for cyberspace are scattered across too many departments, many with overlapping missions and authorities.

"We need an agreed way forward based on common understanding and acceptance of the problem," she said.

Hathaway also stressed the need for greater collaboration between the private and public sector on cybersecurity matters because such a large portion of the critical infrastructure is owned by private companies.

"The public and private sector's interests are intertwined with a shared responsibility for ensuring a secure, reliable infrastructure upon which businesses and government services depend," she said. Going forward, the U.S. also needs to find a way to collaborate with other countries to secure cyberspace effectively, she said.

Though there were no surprises in Hathaway's speech, her remarks add to the growing chorus of voices calling for a substantial overhaul of federal cybersecurity practices. In December, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) delivered a set of cybersecurity recommendations to the president, many of which are identical to those being suggested by Hathaway.

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