Cybersecurity: a shared responsibility

Our nation, like the rest of the world, depends on the Internet and other cyber networks for its most basic and critical functions. As individuals, we rely on these networks for banking, planning travel, and staying in touch. Businesses rely on cyber networks in myriad ways: interacting with clients, processing transactions, and reaching new markets. And our transportation, financial, energy, and communications systems — as well as our government and military — rely heavily on computer networks to function.

The growing number of attacks on these networks and the systems and people connected to them has become, in the president’s words, “one of the most serious economic and national security threats our nation faces.” We see thousands of attempts a day to hack into government, military and private-sector networks. Already, computer worms and targeted attacks have infected millions of computers around the world, destroying important information, disrupting commerce, and creating “botnets” — huge collections of infected computers that can be remotely controlled to launch additional attacks.

As the agency charged with the broad mission of protecting our nation’s cyber infrastructure, systems and networks, the Department of Homeland

Security is playing a key role in boosting our nation’s cyber defenses against this threat. To protect federal civilian networks — the .gov domain — we are reducing and consolidating the number of external connections federal agencies have to the Internet, thereby reducing potential avenues of attack. We are also implementing new intrusion detection and prevention capabilities, known as the EINSTEIN system, that will give us early warning of and tools against attacks so that we can mitigate their impact.

Through the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, and other programs, we are also working more closely than ever with the private sector to detect and understand threats, share knowledge, and learn from the best that the private sector has to offer. Because the private sector owns and operates so much of our nation’s critical infrastructure, is critical to our well-being, and brings both expertise and commitment to the protection of our nation from cyber attack, these public-private partnerships are essential.

But we can’t simply treat cybersecurity as a government or corporate issue. Part of this effort must involve working with the American people to ensure they know about the practical measures that they can take to protect themselves and their families online. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility; each and all of us must take simple steps to be safer, much as we must take simple steps in other areas of life, such as locking our doors and changing the oil in our cars.

To this end, we are asking Americans to make sure their home or business computer is secure. Take the time to install and activate a firewall for your computer. Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software is installed and up to date.

Check your computer settings to make sure your operating system and applications are automatically updated with the most recent security fixes, that is, “patched.” Practice good online habits by not visiting suspect sites, downloading suspicious documents or attachments, or opening e-mail from people you don’t know. Back up your files regularly and use strong and secure passwords. And begin educating your children early about Internet safety. Your common sense will go a long way online, once you know the basic rules of the road.

Finally, we in DHS are working to build a new generation of cybersecurity professionals. Just as Americans have confronted great challenges in the past, we must focus our energy and efforts on building new national human capabilities against cyber threats.

We are working closely with partners in government and private sector to recruit, train and hire talented professionals who will ensure our security and prosperity in the next decades.

And, like our partners, we need more of those people to join the great team we already have. In October, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that DHS has been given expedited authority to hire up to 1,000 skilled cyber professionals over the next three years. We need our best and brightest, our finest computer scientists and engineers, mathematicians, and innovative thinkers contributing to this effort. Those interested in joining our team can find out more at

Together, we can build a more ready and resilient nation that is more than able to succeed and prevail against cyber threats.  Everyone has a role to play in meeting this shared responsibility. Thank you for doing your part.

Reitinger is deputy undersecretary of the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD).