Under the right set of circumstances, one key stroke by a terrorist with intent to cause harm, can be as damaging to a city as a suicide bomber. We have all become dependent upon computer systems to coordinate the hustle and bustle of life, to manage life-sustaining functions in hospitals and ensure the operations of communications, commerce, public health and electrical power just to name a few. This makes cyber security — the protection of our computer networks — a top priority for our federal government.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff understands the ins and outs of cyber security. Sitting down with some bloggers yesterday, he showed a strong command of the issue. In an era when people have lost trust in government, they can rest assured that Chertoff understands how critical this issues is to our national security.

But, focusing national attention on cyber security initiatives will require cooperation not only from the multitude of government agencies that might claim jurisdiction of this issue (whether that be Air Force, National Security Agency, DHS, DoJ, FBI or the DoD) but also the cooperation of the private sector that has a vested interest in the nation’s critical infrastructure. To remain a priority in the federal government, an issue must have political support in order to break free of the bureaucratic inertia that stifles so many efforts toward change.

In this case, the cyber security issue lacks the political support outside government for it to remain a priority. While Secretary Chertoff understands the issue, it remains to be seen whether or not the American public does. Cyber security, to most people, brings to mind threats of identity theft or threats to a company’s internal trade secrets and intellectual property—but hardly ever do they understand cyber security to be a national security issue that threatens the safety of hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of Americans.

Chertoff and company deserve credit for engaging the public about the issue, but they will need to put it in terms that resonate with most Americans.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More