Speaking at the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council's annual gathering forecasting the state of the agency, Thomas Atkin outlined the challenges the Department of Homeland Security will continue to face in 2017.

Chief among them: cybersecurity and critical infrastructure.

The Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security—who operates under the Department of Defense, but coordinates with DHS on policy on homeland defense—said that securing critical infrastructure will loom very large as an issue the Trump administration will need to tackle.

"The challenges with critical infrastructure, the electrical power grid, water, sewer and all of those things have significant challenges that we as a nation need to figure out," he said.  

"I think we've made some great progress over the last few years. There's still a long way to go."

Atkin noted President Obama's July issuance of Presidential Policy Directive 41 lays out guidance for how the federal government and private sector respond to cyber incidents, but there was still a lot of work to do to address the coordination in the wake of such an event.

"The Department of Defense has a role to play [in PPD-41] to be able to respond, so we have to figure it out," he said.

Atkin pointed to coordinated cybersecurity preparation the federal government is using to coordinate response, like Cyber Guard—an annual cyber disaster response exercise that sees multiple agencies, private sector entities, the National Guard and even foreign allies liaise on.

"Cyber Guard is an exercise that talks about a domestic incident and how we, the Department [of Defense]—in concert with DHS and others—would respond to an event of that kind of significance," he said.

"I would say that we are still working some of those planning and training and the exercising of that out, especially when you start talking about critical infrastructure."

DHS has designated 16 sectors as critical infrastructure to the nation, including the energy, financial, commercial facilities and health care sectors. Politico reported on Nov. 29 thatPresident-elect Donald Trump would task the DoD and Joint Chiefs of Staff to coordinate on a plan to defend the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

The report noted that DHS has statutory authority over the protection of private sector critical infrastructure networks, but it was unclear if Trump’s statement meant he would ask the agency to transfer that role to the Pentagon.

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