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Using the medium she is out to the protect, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano took to the Internet today to deliver what can best be described as a “State of Cyber Space” address. Without the fanfare and annoying distractions that often accompany presidential remarks, the Secretary spoke frankly about the challenges and threats our nation, its infrastructure, and its citizens face by criminals, hackers, and others.

While pitching that cybersecurity is a responsibility shared between the public and private sectors and emphasizing the need for individual citizens to play their part by safeguarding their home computers, the Secretary made it very clear to viewers that DHS is a leader to be reckoned with in this arena. By detailing the operational components that DHS already has working the problem (NPPD, CERT, etc.), and by stressing the fact that Phil Reitinger (Deputy Undersecretary of the Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate – NPPD) was leading the effort to bring it all together, it became fairly obvious to this viewer that the buck stops at her desk on this issue.

It is clear that the former Arizona Governor, who has long been known for her expertise on Southwest border issues, is making the protection of the virtual cyberspace borders one of her hallmark issues. That’s great, because the stakes associated with continued infractions and vulnerabilities could not be higher. In the case of cybersecurity, all the eggs from the public, private and military sectors are literally in one basket, and if they all break, we’re in one helluva mess.

While I found no new insights in her remarks, other than her reinforcing a number of points she has made throughout her nine months on the job, I was struck by her personal appeal to the audience to join DHS in its cyber-securing duties by becoming part of the Department. Whereas the Bush Administration made creating the Transportation Security Administration and increasing the size of FEMA and the U.S. Border Patrol a priority to meet the security needs on their watch, the Secretary and the Obama Administration are making their pitch to establish a new corps of cyber professionals as part of its own shaping of the Department.

By adding the thousands of people she says the Department needs to satisfy its current and future cybersecurity demands, the Secretary is building her own legacy at DHS. Furthermore, by ensuring that these jobs are filled as quickly as possible (and that today’s students see DHS as a great place to work in the future), the Secretary is deploying her own virtual border protection patrol to safeguard the country’s interests.

I’m sure when she first took this job, she thought she’d be able to spend a lot more time working on the Southwest border issue. While she has certainly paid attention to it, the virtual borders of America’s infrastructure are proving to be more time consuming everyday. With any luck and some expedited hires, she may have the force needed to do the job. Until then, however, she’s marked her territory, detailed the assignments and issued a call for reinforcements.

Here’s hoping she gets the folks she needs; she’s got a lot of territory to look after.

Rich Cooper blog 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