Feds tout slow cyber-security gains

Congress, White House eliminate some barriers, but several issues remain unaddressed

Washington politicians are frequently pilloried for moving too slowly to respond to emerging problems, and while the adage has proven true regarding the federal sector's response to cyber-security thus far, the US government is making slow progress in addressing the issue, experts maintain.

A panel of government and private sector security officials presenting at the ongoing RSA Conference 2008 on Tuesday admitted that Congress and the White House should have moved faster to address cyber-security challenges, both within the US and in terms of protecting national interests abroad.

But legislators are trying desperately to play catch-up and make headway in some areas of bolstering related laws and policies, the experts said.

Congress, White House begin cutting red tape

In addition to President Bush's recent cyber-security initiative, most details of which remain classified, Congress is attempting to break down bureaucratic barriers that have made it hard to create new laws and policies governing cyber-security and the prosecution of computer-based crimes, said Representative James Langevin (D-RI), who was given a public policy award at the show for his work on the problem.

"Cyber-security has been one of those areas that was largely ignored by the government, and we got a huge wake-up call when we realized how vulnerable we are to cyber-penetration across all areas of government," Langevin said. "But at least now we are looking at how secure federal government networks are and taking some of the steps needed to better secure [them]. At the president's direction we are creating this new cyber-security initiative, so we feel that the federal government is moving in the right direction."

In addition to finally receiving greater support for security-related efforts from the White House, there are ongoing efforts within Congress to reduce some of the bureaucratic issues that have made the federal government's response extremely challenging -- namely by reducing the number of committees that lawmakers working in the area must report to in the course of trying to advance their efforts.

"A lot of this is boiling down to collaboration. We often try everything but collaboration first -- and I can tell you this because there are dozens of oversight committees overlooking the US Department of Homeland Security -- but we're working with Congress to get through some of the knotty issues," said Greg Garcia, assistant secretary for cyber security and communications for the Department of Homeland Security.

"This is true for all of us. We need to strengthen federal networks and get our own house in order. And that also applies to everyone else, because we are all connected," Garcia said. "The federal government can manage their network, and hopefully you can manage yours as well. We're only as strong as the weakest link."

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