By Janet Napolitano
Today, cyberspace is woven into the fabric of our daily lives. According to recent estimates, cyberspace now encompasses more than 2 billion people with at least 12 billion computers and devices, including global positioning systems, mobile phones, satellites, data routers, desktop computers and industrial control systems that run our power plants, water systems and more. It would take only a single infected computer to potentially contaminate or infect thousands or more. Ultimately, our nation’s cybersecurity depends on the people who defend it. The most impressive and sophisticated technology is useful only if it’s operated and maintained by a world-class cybersecurity workforce.
While the vast majority of the nation’s cyber infrastructure is privately owned, the security and economic implications are so profound that their protection is of national importance. To meet constantly evolving challenges, the Department of Homeland Security is growing its world-class cybersecurity team through strong career paths within the department and throughout the federal government. Last October, the Homeland Security Advisory Council Task Force on CyberSkills provided recommendations to help DHS expand the national pipeline of men and women with advanced cybersecurity skills, enable DHS to become a top competitor for cybersecurity talent and enhance the department’s ability to make our nation safer, more secure and more resilient.
DHS is creating and implementing standards of performance through a professional certification system, building a cybersecurity talent pipeline through academic institutions nationwide and with other key partners. For example, students at select community colleges across the country who complete their studies in cybersecurity programs are eligible to apply their skills in a six-month residency at a critical sector organization. DHS has also taken great steps to help our veterans with the support of national, large-scale veteran jobs programs.
DHS is creating a standardized and comprehensive training and development program to grow and retain our existing cybersecurity workforce. We are also establishing a dynamic Cyber Surge Capacity Force composed of certified cybersecurity professionals with critical skills in the private sector, who will be readily available for rapid support and deployment in response to potentially significant cyber events impacting our nation’s critical infrastructure.
We are extending the scope of cyber education beyond the federal workplace through the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education to include the public, as well as students from kindergarten through post-graduate school. We have created a number of competitive scholarship, fellowship and internship programs to attract top talent, including the Secretary’s Honors Program, and we continue to support Centers of Academic Excellence around the country to cultivate a growing number of professionals with expertise in various disciplines, including cybersecurity.
To stay ahead of rapidly evolving threats, we must move aggressively to recruit, educate and train a cyber workforce for the future, with the skills we need to tackle this problem in the years ahead. The Obama administration is committed to engaging with Congress to review how best to hire, train and manage the cybersecurity workforce across the federal government. To that end, we must work together to improve DHS’s ability to hire and retain cybersecurity personnel by updating hiring and pay flexibilities for DHS as well as increasing the federal government’s access to cyber experts by applying existing public-private personnel exchange authorities to civilian agencies.
To address the urgent cybersecurity challenges that our nation faces, we must take steps to address these problems today. Since the inception of our nation, we have always risen to meet new challenges, and right now we need you and every American to stand up and face our next big challenge — cybersecurity.
Janet Napolitano is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.