DHS Secretary Says Cabinet-Level Cyber Security Czar Unnecessary

This was the headline after the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano, said the concept of a cabinet-level IT position for cyber security was overkill. Secretary Napolitano noted that IT networks and services underlie most operations today, therefore all we need is for citizens to be more careful when they are online. Really? Is it me or does this sound like the campaign for teens to “just say no?”

We can’t escape the fact that our society has evolved where public trust is the foundation of our technologically based culture. And if trust becomes faint due to lack of accountability for cyber security, we’ll take a step back into the stone ages (pen and paper letters, standing in teller lines, ordering through catalogs -remember those days?).

Seriously, in private industry and in the largest, most complex organizations there is someone accountable for the network security function. I ask you why the government should be any different.

If nothing else, with the Katrina disaster of several years ago, we learned that when no one is accountable for critical functions, or assumes the “other guy” is handling it, things fall through the cracks. I agree with Secretary Napolitano that “It’s really hard to segregate [IT] out.” In her speech she states, “I’m not sure that I think that a cabinet-level position is necessary. And the reason is that cyber runs through everything that we do as a government.”

This is all the more reason to have that cyber security czar at the helm. The threat to America is no longer limited to long range missiles, but closely targeted network attacks that could disable everything from traffic lights, to electric grids, nuclear plants, financial systems, even our phone systems. To date these scenarios have been the stuff of movies. But I can guarantee you there is some terrorist thinking about the possibilities.

As a country we’ve witnessed the shift of our culture from agrarian, manufacturing, and now to services. And this services-based economy is built on the embedding of technology in almost every aspect of American society. Literally all our personal, community, industrial and governmental processes interface with technology in some form or fashion. From ATMs to booking a flight. If you want to take step backwards as a society, imagine if we lost trust in the very networks which support our way of life.

Accountability and vigilance in security has to be a high priority if we are to enjoy the standards and reap the benefits of the technology age we live in.

A security czar coordinating among the various departments and championing the standards that impact government, jobs, global trade, social services and industry seems like a no-brainer.