Homeland Security Working to Fight Cyberattacks, Napolitano Says

The Obama administration is working “full-bore” on helping the business and government agencies confront the threat of cyberattacks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.

Napolitano’s comments came two days after the Pentagon directly accused China’s military of probing U.S. government computers for sensitive data. That report follows comments in March by U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who said China was engaged in a “large scale” effort to steal trade secrets and intellectual property.

Cybersecurity is the fastest growing-part of Napolitano’s agency, which is helping critical industries develop voluntary cybersecurity standards, she said in remarks today at the Conference of the Americas. Speaking at the State Department event in Washington, the former Arizona governor also said she hoped her agency would be busy implementing on overhaul of immigration laws.

“In terms of real-time, ongoing threat in the United States to our infrastructure, and thereby to our way of doing life, cyber is a very, very concerning and active field,” Napolitano said today. “So it’s one of the things, as I said in my early remarks, we’re really full-bore on.”

Her department has major responsibilities for securing the Internet domains, Napolitano said. It also is responsible for securing and working with the private sector on critical infrastructure. “We have a very tight timeline for setting the standards for that,” she said.

The offices within Homeland Security that concentrate on cyber issues “are the fastest growing area of our shop,” she said.

Budget Increase

The Obama administration, as part of its fiscal 2014 budget request, is seeking to increase U.S. government spending on cybersecurity to $13 billion, about $1 billion more than current levels.

The administration has identified 18 critical infrastructure industries, including energy and finance, that it will work with, Napolitano said. “Coordinating councils” already exist for the government to work with these industries on physical infrastructure, she said. The administration will use the same structure to cooperate with business on cyberthreats.

The Chinese army may be behind the hacking of at least 141 companies worldwide since 2006, according to a Feb. 19 report from Alexandria, Virginia-based Mandiant Corp.

Donilon, who helps shape U.S. foreign policy, said in his March 11 speech that China needs to recognize the scope of the hacking issue, take steps to halt computer espionage and start a “constructive dialogue” with the U.S. on the matter.

Student Visas

Asked what her department was doing after the terrorist attack in Boston to ensure that foreign students are properly vetted when they apply for visas, Napolitano said efforts are under way to make sure that “data held by one department way over here on one program is united with data held over here, and it’s exchanged in real time so everyone has access -- everyone who needs to has access to it.”

That process, called “common vetting,” now happens between agencies manually, Napolitano said. It will become automated in the “next weeks,” she said.

The larger challenge of getting immigration changes through Congress is “at the beginning of a long road,” Napolitano said. She said she hopes the administration will “be very busy implementing comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.”

The administration is still working closely with Mexico on violence related to drug cartels, Napolitano said.

Napolitano said she wanted to see more cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico on trade and travel and called for more construction at large ports of entry. “Both countries should have skin in the game where improvements at the land border are concerned,” she said.

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