Former Bush official blasts gov't cybersecurity

IDG News Service |  Security

U.S. President George W. Bush's former cybersecurity advisor blasted his old boss' efforts within the federal government, and another expert called for Congress to force companies to pay attention to cybersecurity during a congressional hearing Tuesday.

The Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security is moving too slowly in organizing its National Cyber Security Center, and the White House Office of Management and Budget needs to hire a full-time chief information security officer to focus on cybersecurity, said Richard Clarke, former special advisor to the president for cyberspace security.

The president's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, released in mid-February, cannot move forward without the Homeland Security cybersecurity center, Clarke said, who left the White House two months ago and is now a consultant. The department has failed to "recruit a cadre of nationally recognized cybersecurity experts," he said.

"I would hope that with cybersecurity we can do more to raise our defenses before we have a major disaster," Clarke added. "The problems we've had to date are minor compared to the potential."

Clarke, testifying at the House Committee on Government Reform's Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, also called on Congress to fund vulnerability scanning sensors on all federal networks and recommended federal agencies outsource their cybersecurity projects and withhold money from the vendors if the agencies get failing cybersecurity grades.

Michael Vatis, director of the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College, agreed with Clarke that the U.S. government response to cybersecurity is lacking. Hundreds of cybersecurity jobs, including top posts, that were to move from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center and other agencies to the new Homeland Security Department are unfilled, he noted.

"It could take over a year before we get back to where we were in our ability to respond to cyberattacks," Vatis said, blaming a "gaping void" in leadership from the Bush administration.

But Mark Forman, associate director of information security and electronic government for the White House Office of Management and Budget, defended the Bush administration efforts to make federal agencies more secure.

The number of federal systems meeting several cybersecurity goals have risen rapidly since 2001, Forman said. In 2001, only 40 percent of federal systems had up-to-date system security plans, he said, and by 2002, that number had risen to 61 percent. Forman said he'd match those improvements against any company in the private sector, although he admitted the numbers are "still too low."

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