Mark Weatherford is deputy under secretary for cybersecurity at DHS. (Nicole Johnson / Federal Times)
SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is positioning itself to take on an expanded role in defending the nation’s most critical systems from catastrophic cyber attacks, a department official said Monday.
“My goal ... is to synergize around making DHS the cyber 9-1-1 for the nation,” Mark Weatherford, DHS’ deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity, said Monday.
Weatherford, who spoke at the Cloud Security Alliance Summit at RSA, said DHS has been increasing its federal cybersecurity workforce and is developing an internal certification program to help professionals maintain high levels of proficiency in cybersecurity.
Under a White House executive order released this month, DHS will play a prominent role in defending both federal and critical systems such as the electric grid. But a shortage of qualified cyber professionals remains one of the biggest challenges facing the public and private sectors, he said.
Weatherford stressed that talented cyber professionals need not have a college degree to be successful.
“It should not be a discriminator in whether somebody can do the job or not,” he said, adding that some people in government disagree.
The nation’s lack of cyber talent requires a sense of urgency for national and economic security reasons, he said.
While the nation’s security experts are improving cyber defensive technologies, “the bad guys are getting better faster than we are getting better,” Weatherford said.
“Higher walls and deeper moats are not the answer to our security problem,” he said.
Weatherford shied away from commenting on offensive cybersecurity capabilities but warned there are unintended consequences that come from retaliating in the cyber realm.