FBI's cyberdefense unit gets new leader

Computerworld |  Business

The FBI yesterday appointed one of its veteran investigators to head the bureau's cyberdefense unit, as security experts and lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to debate how best to organize federal efforts to protect the nation's critical infrastructure from a devastating cyberattack.

FBI Director Louis Freeh announced the appointment of Ronald Dick as the new head of the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC). Dick, a 24-year veteran of the FBI with a background in investigating computer crimes, replaces Michael Vatis, who recently left the NIPC to become director of the Institute for Security Technology Studies (ISTS) at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Dick inherits the helm of the NIPC at a turning point for the three-year-old organization. The NIPC has been criticized for what some have called a "fundamental inability to communicate" with the rest of the national security community. That problem, coupled with the sheer number of organizations involved in national cybersecurity, has led some experts and members of Congress to call for a drastic overhaul and consolidation of federal cyberdefenses.

Dick's "solid credentials as an FBI agent should be an asset in the inevitable bureaucratic tugs of war ahead," said Steven Aftergood, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. "A new director can certainly help, as long as he has the backing of the FBI and the [Bush] administration."

In one of his first steps toward demonstrating a coordinated federal approach to cybersecurity, Dick publicly introduced the Cyber Incident Coordination Group (CICG), a group of select cyberintelligence experts from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and the FBI. The CICG was formed late last year and conducts virtual meetings to coordinate responses to cyberincidents that may pose a risk to national security.

Despite these advances in cooperation, the Bush administration has already hinted at a preference for a more centralized management structure for national and cyberdefense issues.

The president on Feb. 13 issued a memorandum abolishing the existing structure of federal interagency working groups, including the Critical Infrastructure Coordination Group, and reconstituted each as one of 11 centralized policy coordination groups within the National Security Council. One of those groups will handle issues of homeland defense, which specifically involve defending the nation against cyberattacks or acts of terrorism.

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