U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called on the general public to play a role in improving cyber-security.
In a speech Oct. 20, Napolitano said home users have to do their part to ensure the safety of their own computers to prevent them from becoming bots that can be used to launch attacks against critical systems.
"Securing your home computer helps you and your family, and it also helps your nation in some very important ways," she said. "It helps by reducing the risk to our financial system from theft, [and] to our nation from having your computer infected and then used as a tool to attack other computers."
Her remarks come as the nation awaits the appointment of the cyber-security coordinator President Obama promised in a speech earlier this year. It also comes shortly after the administration gave the Department of Homeland Security permission to hire as many as 1,000 IT professionals during the next three years to bolster cyber-security. The types of positions slated to be filled span everything from cyber-risk and strategic analysis to vulnerability detection and assessment.
But the central theme of Napolitano's speech was partnership-between the government, the public and the private sector.
"We see thousands of attempts a day to hack into our nation's government, military and private sector networks," she said. "We've had computer viruses and worms infect millions of computers around the world, destroying important information and disrupting commerce.
"The networks we rely on every day provide us a shared benefit ... the risk and dangers of that technology are also shared, and so the security of our networks, our digital infrastructure, our cyberspace must also be a shared responsibility," she said.
For the public, that means following best practices for Web browsing, such as not visiting suspicious sites or downloading suspect material as well as keeping antivirus and other programs up-to-date, she said.
While talk of shared responsibility and partnerships by government officials is nothing new when it comes to IT security, Sophos Senior Security Adviser Chester Wisniewski told eWEEK that the emphasis on the general public was good to hear.
"The most important component to me was raising awareness to the general populous that their desktops are the front line in defending our electronic assets," he said. "In essence, we are being attacked from within, with most of the zombie computers in the United States controlled by foreign criminals. ... By not protecting our PCs we are contributing to the power of these criminal elements and increase their ability to put our essential internet infrastructure at risk."