DHS secretary addresses cyber security concerns

ATLANTA, October 20, 2009 - Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered an online address Tuesday regarding the agency’s efforts to secure the nation’s networks.

Napolitano said that President Obama views cyber security as being paramount to national security and has charged the agency with playing a key role in helping to coordinate efforts between law enforcement and other government agencies to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent hackers and other cyber criminals from gaining access to secure data.

“Cyber security is not some abstract concept,” she said. “This is about the networks we use to communicate, to shop, do our banking, and run our businesses.”

The DHS secretary added that the responsibility for our nation’s cyber security is a shared one among the government, private sector and individuals.

“Like it or not, we are all in this together,” Napolitano said.

Most Americans, however, do not have faith in the government to keep their private information safe. According to a recent survey conducted by the Unisys Corporation, only 22 percent of Americans have confidence that government agencies can secure their information and only 29 percent believe that financial institutions can do so.

In addition, the bi-annual Unisys Security Index found that the number of Americans concerned about conducting online transactions has risen to 42 percent, the highest since Unisys began the security index two years ago.

To help combat those fears, Napolitano advises individual computer users to install and activate firewalls, make sure antivirus software is up to date, check computer settings and make sure that automatic security patches are downloaded, backup files regularly, use good passwords, and practice good online habits, such as not visiting untrustworthy Web sites or downloading suspicious files.

Under the leadership of Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary of DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate, the department will be responsible for consolidating cyber security efforts with the newly created National Cyber Security Center to help keep the government’s computer systems safe. Napolitano added that the agency will also be reaching out to work with businesses and trade groups to protect critical infrastructure.

The DHS has also been given “expedited hiring authority” to bring in nearly 1,000 cyber security professionals over the next several years to deal with the growing threat.

“We can’t treat the protection of our networks as just an IT or cyber issue,” she said. “To the people affected (by cyber crimes), it’s a people issue.”