DHS Secretary Requests Private Sector Assistance on Cyber Security

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has warned stakeholders that the department is unable to keep up with the cyber threats it is receiving. Over the last week, Secretary Nielsen has unequivocally stated that cybersecurity is the chief threat to U.S. security and the agency cannot handle it alone.

In a speech at George Washington University on Monday, Nielson noted, “On top of my list of threats, that many of you can guess, the word ‘cyber’ is circled, highlighted and underlined… I am more worried about the ability of bad guys to hijack our networks than their ability to hijack our flights. I am concerned about them holding our infrastructure hostage, stealing our money and secrets, exploiting children online and even hacking our democracy.”

Secretary Nielson also warned that the U.S. is currently ill prepared to handle the issue. She further explained that the ability of her agency to combat these attacks will rest on its ability to “innovate while under attack” since threats are being identified more quickly than they can be maintained.

At the DHS cyber and innovation showcase this week, Secretary Nielson brought forward more grim news regarding cyber preparedness, stating, “The discipline of understanding that is emerging is where I find we are lacking. Failure to look at the future or limiting our thinking based on what we’ve observed in the past, those in and of themselves are risks.”

According to Secretary Nielson there are about 20 billion devices currently connected to the internet. By 2025 there are expected to be 75 billion internet connected devices. With more devices, Nielsen sees more opportunities for new kinds of cyberattacks.

Nielson described cyber threats as “what keeps me up at night.”

In order to combat this growing threat, Secretary Nielsen called upon the private sector for assistance.

Nielson explained, ““We’ve been through the ‘let’s partner.’ We’ve been through the ‘let’s share information.’ Now we need to operationalize those partnerships … to stand shoulder to shoulder and not just in response [to a cyberattack] … but on the front end.”

The secretary described this as moving beyond the “whole-of-government approach”- which promoted cooperation amongst digital defenders, law enforcement, and policy officials- calling this model “outdated.”

Instead, Secretary Nielson called for a “whole-of-society” approach.

Nielson explained, “It is not just U.S. troops and government agents on the front lines anymore. It is U.S. companies … It is ordinary Americans. Threat actors are mercilessly targeting everyone’s devices and networks. They are compromising, co-opting, and controlling them. And they are weaponizing our own innovation against us.”

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