A Brief Check-In on Cyber Security

Today's White House cyber meeting was billed as a check-in, a way for the administration's cyber coordinator, Howard Schmidt, to update information technology industry leaders on the government's efforts to secure cyberspace. It's been a year since the administration released its comprehensive cyber policy review, and six months since Schmidt was appointed to the National Security Council.

As the Senate and House have begun to mark up legislation dealing with critical infrastructure protection, the White House has been largely silent on cyber security. Much of what Schmidt does on a daily basis is not the type of thing that one can make public; he de-conflicts disputes, manages responses to critical incidents, and engages with industry leaders. He's now a fairly regular presence at trade fairs, but there are moments when it helps to have the full faith and credit of the United States thrown behind one idea-- as happened when President Obama stopped by the meeting today, for 15 minutes. Message: cyber is still important.

In a blog post, Schmidt said that the purpose of the meeting was to draw "attention to the efforts of these communities to reduce risk and build confidence in our critical information and communications infrastructure." What does that mean in conversational English? He had a conversation about what the White House, DHS, and industry were doing to untangle complex problems.

For example: companies want to secure their stuff, oh yes, but they're worried about financial risk. So they discussed a pilot program that would provide a sort of insurance to help companies deal with the unanticipated consequences of being violated, cyber-wise, as well as by having that violation be made public. Companies that have a good, verified security system in place wouldn't risk losing as much money. 

A couple of technical things: Schmidt noted that the EINSTEIN II network intrusion system was deployed at 12 of 19 target government agencies; the Department of Homeland Security will bring the rest up to speed by the end of the year, according to Bruce McConnell, a government cyber adviser who attended the meeting. McConnell's boss, DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, announced the winners of the National Cybersecurity Campaign Awareness Challenge (NCCAC) -- so many acronyms! These winning campaigns, sent in largely by IT contractors who do business with the government, will be employed during the "month" in October. 

Here's the way Schmidt described the POTUS stop by:

Of course, the real highlight came when the President stopped by to emphasize the increasing importance our society will place on digital communications and information infrastructure as we seek to unleash the potential of these new media. He emphasized the need for continued collaboration between the private sector and government, stating "that's why we're going to need all of you to keep coming together--government, industry, academia, think tanks, media and privacy and civil liberties groups--to work together, to develop the solutions we need to keep America safe and prosperous in cyberspace."


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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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