As Congress clambers to wrap up its work for the year, cyber-security proponents are scrambling to ensure that the safety of data networks is not lost in the debate over physical security and the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
Legislators could begin voting on a bill at the committee level as early as this week, and several cyber-security initiatives are already being thrown into the mix.
The initiatives, which spring from two bills introduced earlier this month, would create an assistant secretary of cyber-security at the Department of Homeland Security and establish a program to transfer and commercialize promising technologies used by the government.
The cyber-security measures, authored by Reps. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., highlight a debate about the relative prominence of cyber-security in overall security that has whirled in Washington since the inception of DHS.
Seeking to elevate the status of cyber-security, the Thornberry/Lofgren bills would put the envisioned assistant secretary in charge of telecommunications, computers and data networks.
The measures enjoy broad support from the IT industry, which has voiced concern in the past that cyber-security has been given inadequate attention.
"With an assistant secretary, you have a greater voice inside the department, and youre going to have easier access to top management," said Dan Burton, senior vice president of government affairs at Entrust Inc., of Addison, Texas. "If you want to get something done in Washington, youve got to have a strong position."
The federal governments top official dedicated to cyber-security today is Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate at the DHS. The directorate has two assistant secretaries, and Yoran reports to Bob Liscouski, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection. Yoran is widely viewed as the logical contender for the envisioned role of assistant secretary.
"I think Amit is an outstanding candidate," Burton said. "Hes got the right background, the right technical experience."
The measures face formidable, but not unexpected, opposition, including from within the DHS.
The other cyber-security initiative that legislators are considering would direct the DHS to work more closely with the private sector.
"Its important that we dont work in a vacuum in the federal government," said Dexter Ingram, director of information security policy at the Business Software Alliance, in Washington. "Its important that [technology] gets disseminated to state and local governments as well."
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