DHS Head Speaks on Silicon Valley Office, Private-Public Partnership

Speaking at RSA, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson discusses what his agency is doing to protect America and made a plea for less encryption.

Jeh Johnson Homeland Security

SAN FRANCISCO—Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson took the keynote stage at the RSA Conference today to explain what the U.S. government is doing in cyber-security, including a new Silicon Valley office and public-private partnerships, and why encryption isn't always a good thing.

Cyber-security is a major priority for President Obama and his entire administration and it's a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Johnson said.

"The Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and counter-terrorism is the cornerstone of my department's mission," Johnson said. "In 2015, cyber-security is a mission of equal importance."

Johnson emphasized that the U.S. government does not have all the answers or all the talent, and cyber-security must be a partnership between government and those in the private sector. To that end, DHS has been building an agile cyber-response capability to help address and mitigate threats.

To help grow the partnership with the private sector, DHS is finalizing plans to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley, Johnson said. The purpose of the new office is to help strengthen the critical relationship between the government and the private sector so that both sides can benefit. Additionally, Johnson wants to convince talented workers to come to Washington and work for the U.S. government. The U.S. digital service initiative enables talent to flow and rotate between the private sector and government, he said.

"We hope some of you will consider a tour of service," Johnson said.

Johnson also discussed China, which has often been identified by security researchers as a base for cyber-attacks against the United States. Johnson, who met with officials in China two weeks ago to discuss cyber-security, said that although the two countries have a difference of opinion on some issues, both recognize the need to make progress on a range of cyber-security issues. There was an agreement after the meeting to have further discussion with China to continue the conversation, Johnson said.

Deeper Encryption and Law Enforcement

While Johnson spent most of his keynote talking about DHS activities and efforts in the cyber-security realm, he is concerned about the continued advancements in encryption and what that means for his agency. "The current course of action for deeper encryption presents real challenges for national security and law enforcement," Johnson said.

Johnson emphasized that he understands the need for privacy, but he noted that DHS' inability to access encrypted information poses public safety challenges. He added that encryption is making it difficult for the government to find criminals.

The real challenge is to find the right balance.

"Homeland security itself is a balance between the basic physical security of the American people and the liberties and freedoms we cherish," Johnson said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.