Two former DHS leaders on DHS under a new administration

Published 18 November 2008

Amit Yoran and Dwight Williams held important positions at DHS; now in private industry, they offer their view and the challenges the department will face next year

Computerworld asked two security experts for their views of DHS, views which are especially appropriate now as a new administration is about to assume power.

Amit Yoran left DHS in September 2004, convinced the department had no clue on how to handle cybersecurity. He says he now feels more hopeful. He was DHS’s first director of the National Cyber Security Division of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection office, but by September 2004 he was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of concern and commitment to Internet security. Four years later, he is feeling better about the state of affairs. “I think we’ve gone through a very important shift from an industry and government perspective,” he says. “On the government side, in the last two years we’ve seen a concerted effort from the White House to make this a priority. A lot of action in support of the Cybersecurity Initiative is taking place within the departments and agencies. So I’m very encouraged by this start.”

Still, he continues to see room for improvement. The initiative has not gone through the open dialog and debate that should be happening, he says. There’s also the question of what the next president’s Internet security policies will look like when he takes office 20 January 2009. “The economy is obviously a key issue right now, so I’m not surprised that it has overshadowed cybersecurity, and rightfully so,” Yoran says. “During the campaign, both sides had good people in the field advising them.” Yoran is hopeful that the government’s cybersecurity focus will continue to sharpen.

Dwight Williams was chief security officer for DHS, directing and managing security matters related to the department and its 200,000 employees and contractors for close to three years. He says that from its formation, DHS relied heavily on contractor support to stand up the organization and roll out new initiatives. “From my experience, it was a public-private partnership that worked very well. I am certain the private sector will continue to play a prominent role with DHS, particularly in the development of new technologies to protect the homeland and by providing surge support in response to natural or man-made disasters,” he says.

He says that other key roles for the private sector include the protection of the U.S. critical infrastructure and government facilities, thus freeing valuable government resources to concentrate on detection and elimination of threats to our way of life.

What are the one or two major challenges with regard to homeland security that still need to be tackled? And what is the challenge for security contractors in working with DHS on these challenges? Williams says that we still face a number of major challenges, but high on his list is securing the U.S. very porous borders and the inspection of the vast amount of goods that enter the United States each day by ground, air, and sea.

As to contractors: “I think it is important that security contractors have the opportunity to discuss solutions with the federal customer prior to the issuance of a RFP. A combination of rapidly emerging security technologies and the constantly shifting threat landscape can make the best solution a moving target. Creating a strong partnership between industry and the government will always produce a better security solution.”