Cybersecurity is hands down the national security issue of the day, and Shane Harris saw it coming. Since 2005, Harris has been the homeland security and intelligence correspondent for National Journal. Along the way, Harris has seen cybersecurity evolve from an arguably esoteric topic to one of national security interest. Here Harris debriefs on trends to watch in cybersecurity, as well as the role the Obama administration will play in cybersecurity initiatives.
What’s something most people don’t know about cybersecurity?
Shane Harris: I think most people probably don’t understand just how pervasive the threat is or how seriously the government is taking it. I’ve been covering cybersecurity for the better part of seven years [first as technology editor for Government Executive magazine, then as homeland security and intelligence correspondent for National Journal, and I haven’t seen as much attention paid in the first six years to this issue as I have in the past year.
What do you think of the Obama team’s approach to cybersecurity?
Shane Harris: They seem to really “get it.” They obviously led the most technologically sophisticated presidential campaign we’ve ever seen … in terms of social networking, fundraising, and outreach communication. They also understand the vulnerabilities. During the campaign we saw that the computers of the Obama campaign (and the McCain campaign) were hacked. So, they come into power with a base level of understanding about the power — and the vulnerability — of technology.
Where does the government contracting community fit into cybersecurity work for the government?
Shane Harris: Recent articles have spoken about the potential bonanza in contracting due to cybersecurity. I don’t know how much of a boom this will really be for new contractors, though. It seems to me that, as is so often the case with high level procurements and programs, a certain number of companies know how to do this well — the large system integrators, the beltway contractors whose systems have already been built. The more interesting question is, Once the government starts to develop new technologies for detecting cyber threats will they make that technology available to the private sector? What role is the government going to play in trying to encourage corporations to adopt these technologies and run them on private networks? That’s important because, obviously, private companies own the vast majority of data networks.
How do you see cybersecurity playing out over the next few years?
Shane Harris: A few days after the inauguration, a set of agenda items was released for homeland security — one stated that Obama would appoint a chief cybersecurity coordinator who would report directly to him. Obviously all eyes are going to be on this cyber chief; it will be up to him or her to articulate cyber policy. It will be interesting to see if they focus their efforts immediately on government networks or try to do more outreach to the private sector and start a national cybersecurity strategy.[Editor’s note: Since our interview, Obama has chosen an interim cyber czar, Melissa Hathaway, who had been handling cybersecurity for the Director of National Intelligence.]
Interview conducted by JD Kathuria
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