Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson highlighted cybersecurity and counterterrorism as two “cornerstones” of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) mission during his State of Homeland Security address delivered last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
“In 2016, counterterrorism will remain the cornerstone of DHS’s mission,” Johnson said. “The events of 2015 reinforce this.” He added, “While counterterrorism remains a cornerstone of our Department’s mission, I have concluded that cybersecurity must be another. Making tangible improvements to our nation’s cybersecurity is a top priority for me and President Obama before we leave office.”
Johnson explained that the threat of global terrorism has evolved from a world of “terrorist directed attacks” to a world that includes the “threat of terrorist inspired attacks.”
In response, DHS has intensified its work with state and local law enforcement, increased the presence of Federal Protective Services at US government buildings across the country, and assisted state and local governments with active shooter training exercises, overtime for cops and firefighters, salaries for emergency managers, emergency vehicles, and communications and surveillance equipment.
Furthermore, in an effort to curb the number of foreign fighters and prevent them from returning to the US to potentially conduct an attack on the homeland, DHS introduced a number of security enhancements to the Visa Waiver program, which enables eligible citizens or nationals of designated countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, the enhancements included requiring the use of e-passports for all Visa Waiver Program travelers coming to the United States; requiring the use of the INTERPOL Lost and Stolen Passport Database to screen travelers crossing a Visa Waiver country’s borders; and expanding the use of US federal air marshals on international flights from Visa Waiver countries to the United States.
In December, Congress codified into law several of these security enhancements, and placed new restrictions on eligibility for travel to the US without a visa. Johnson explained that, “Waivers from these restrictions will only be granted on a case-by-case basis, when it is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States to do so.”
He added, “Those denied entry under the Visa Waiver Program as a result of this new law may still apply for a visa to travel to the US.”
DHS also reformed the National Terrorism Advisory System, announced the schedule for the final two phases of implementation of the REAL ID law, and expanded the use of social media for a number of purposes.
“Today social media is used for over 33 different operational and investigative purposes within DHS,” Johnson said. “Beginning in 2014 we launched four pilot programs that involved consulting the social media of applicants for certain immigration benefits. USCIS now also reviews the social media of Syrian refugee applicants referred for enhanced vetting. Based upon the recent recommendation of a Social Media Task Force within DHS, I have determined that we must expand the use of social media even further, consistent with law.”
Johnson explained that cybersecurity is a major priority for him before he leaves office. He said the department wants to expand its cyber response teams from 10 to 48, promote public awareness of the importance of multi-factor authentication, and double the number of cybersecurity advisors to assist private sector organizations with in-person, customized cybersecurity assessments and best practices. P
resident Obama’s budget proposal for 2017 reflects this renewed focus on cybersecurity and counterterrorism. The proposed $19 billion request—a 35 percent increase in cybersecurity funding—represents one of the largest increases ever sought in this area.
Earlier this month, the President announced his “Cybersecurity National Action Plan,” which includes a call for the creation of a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, additional investments in technology, federal cybersecurity, cyber education, new cyber talent in the federal workforce, and improved cyber incident response.
The focus on cyber comes as no surprise. DHS itself became the victim of a major security breach just this month after a hacker exposed the sensitive information—including names, job titles, email addresses and phone numbers—of over 20,000 supposed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employees, as well as over 9,000 alleged DHS employees.
British authorities have arrested a UK teenager in connection with the hack. The teen is suspected of being the leader of a group of hackers who call themselves “Crackas with Attitude.”
Overall, the president’s proposal calls for $40.6 billion in discretionary spending for DHS, an amount that’s $381 million more than the department’s fiscal 2016 enacted level. The request will fund a number of new programs, including a DHS-led interagency task force on countering violent extremism.