The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a new cybersecurity division Friday, kindling a spark of optimism in technology industry groups that were losing faith in the government's commitment to computer security.
The new 60-person National Cyber Security Division will have three units, according to the announcement, and will provide "24 x 7 functions."
One unit is charged with identifying risks and reducing vulnerabilities to the government's own systems, as well as critical infrastructures like the power grid and telecommunications networks.
A second unit called the Cyber Security Tracking, Analysis, & Response Center will focus on the Internet, and attempt to detect and respond to major online incidents in coordination with other government agencies, foreign governments and the private sector. The third unit would create cybersecurity awareness programs.
"Most businesses in this country are unable to segregate the cyber operations from the physical aspects of their business because they operate interdependently," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement. "This new division will be focused on the vitally important task of protecting the nation's cyber assets so that we may best protect the nation's critical infrastructure assets."
The new division is part of the DHS's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate, which absorbed most of the government's existing cybersecurity agencies in March. The directorate is headed by former Coca-Cola Corp. security executive Robert Liscouski, but the new cybersecurity division does not yet have a leader.
Following a wave of resignations from top government cybersecurity posts earlier this year, industry groups began worrying publicly that cybersecurity was receiving short shrift from the Bush administration. Some of those groups greeted Friday's announcement with cautious optimism.
"I think it's a major step forward-- [though] it's certainly not exactly the way we would have structured it," says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, a tech industry trade group. Miller notes that the administration's former cybersecurity czar, Richard Clarke, had a much higher position in government than the unfilled cybersecurity director's post. "Clarke was a special advisor to the President," says Miller. "Bureaucratically, it's a big jump down to a division director reporting to an assistant secretary."
But the new division clears up some of the confusion over how the DHS's cybersecurity efforts would be coordinated, says Will Rodger, director of public policy at the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) in Washington, DC.
"It wasn't clear where how these various groups were going to be coordinated, or what kind of relationship they were going to have with one another," Rodger says. "I think what this does is it puts out in very clear terms what a lot of folks had hoped would happen, in that DHS is integrating all the disparate elements of cybersecurity under one department."