DHS launches a new cyber hub to coordinate against threats to US infrastructure

Among the many things the current administration has been criticized for is its lack of a unified strategy to combat cyber threats, especially in light of ongoing election interference and psy ops perpetrated by Russia. The Department of Homeland Security is advancing the ball with the creation of the National Risk Management Center, intended on protecting critical infrastructure from attacks and subversion by online adversaries.

The NRMC was announced today at a cyber summit in New York held by the agency, where DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained the purpose and justification for this new entity. Remarkably, she directly contradicted the ongoing soft-pedaling by the Executive of Russian operations targeting the country.

“Let me be clear: Our intelligence community had it right. It was the Russians. It was directed from the highest levels. And we cannot and will not allow it to happen again,” she said.

DHS Secretary Nielsen in 2017.

Thus the creation of the NRMC, which will work directly with various entities and federal agencies to protect infrastructure like banking systems and the power grid (not to mention election systems). These are such obvious targets for foreign intelligence to attack, either for destructive or informative purposes, that they merit special attention from our side as well, and DHS is in fact the one to provide it.

The new center will be online and staffed tomorrow, though it will take some time to spin up completely as DHS allocates space, personnel and resources. Its exact duties, jurisdictions and connections with other units will no doubt be made clear as well.

Vice President Pence spoke at the event too, but naturally chose to lash out at the Obama administration, which he said “often chose silence and paralysis over strength and action.”

This is a strange thing to say when several prominent cybersecurity-related posts and offices have been abandoned and a report by the Office of Management and Budget found agencies around the country are utterly unprepared for even elementary cyberattacks.

One of the major moves to improve cybersecurity, elevating CyberCom to Unified Combatant Command level, was an Obama-era plan, and the president’s overall cyber strategy, announced last year, also cribbed liberally from the previous administration.

That said, the vice president was realistic on other points.

“The fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” he concurred. “This administration will not tolerate threats from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or anyone else.”

The other countries on the list, it bears mentioning, have not been found to have interfered with American elections, though admittedly they might if they had the chance.

Pence also acknowledged states’ prerogative in running their elections how they like, but also said the federal government would be providing additional funding and technology for election security. He mentioned the “Albert sensors” being deployed to help monitor online systems, and a “virtual situation room” many states are already using that connects DHS with state authorities.

“I want to urge, with great respect, every state to take renewed action. Take advantage of the assistance offered by our administration,” Pence said.

That seems like a good idea, as Russian operations have already begun ahead of the 2018 midterms. Perhaps that joint Russo-American cybersecurity group proposed by Putin will help.

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