White House creates new cyber agency in effort to combat computer attacks

Reuters/Rick Wilking
The White House has officially announced plans to establish a new agency, the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, in order to streamline how the government handles the increasing number of attacks waged against the nation’s computer systems.

Lisa Monaco, the homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to US President Barack Obama, went public with the administration’s plans to create the agency on Tuesday, saying it would give the government greater ability to share information about potential cyberattacks among the federal offices already tasked with countering the ever-growing number of network assaults.

“The cyberthreat is one of the greatest threats we face, and policymakers and operators will benefit from having a rapid source of intelligence,” Monaco explained to the Washington Post. “It will help ensure that we have the same integrated, all-tools approach to the cyberthreat that we have developed to combat terrorism.”

Government offices including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency already manage cyber-operations centers, the Post acknowledged in its report, but their ability to thwart attacks is up for debate after an onslaught of recent assaults: the head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s software innovation division told CBS’ 60 Minutes program over the weekend that “the number of attacks is dramatically increasing” with regards to the US military’s networks, and hacks suffered by private businesses during the last several months – such as the ones that targeted Sony Pictures Entertainment and healthcare provider Anthem – have rekindled the public’s interest in cyber protections as well.

“Now, currently, no single government entity is responsible for producing coordinated cyber threat assessments, ensuring that information is shared rapidly among existing cyber centers and other elements within our government and supporting the work of operators and policy makers with timely intelligence about the latest cyber threats and threat actors," Monaco admitted to attendees at a Tuesday event at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, where the administration’s plans were announced.

Establishing the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, Monaco said, "is intended to fill these gaps” and expand the government’s ability to counter attacks that might otherwise slip through the cracks. According to Reuters, a senior Obama administration official said the center will “connect the dots” between cyber threats “so that relevant departments and agencies are aware of these threats in as close to real time as possible.”

"We are at a transformational moment in the evolution of the cyber threat," the Fierce Government IT website quoted Monaco as saying at Tuesday’s event. "The actions we take today and those we fail to take will determine whether cyberspace remains a great national asset or increasingly becomes a strategic liability, an economic and national security strength or a source of vulnerability."

“The threat is becoming more diverse, more sophisticated and more dangerous, and I worry that malicious attacks…will increasingly become the norm unless we adapt quickly and take a comprehensive approach,” she added, according to The Wall Street Journal.

According to the Journal, the new center will be managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, placing it under the umbrella held by DNI James Clapper, which already encompasses the NSA, CIA and others.

Last month, President Obama called on Congress to pass legislation that would increase cyberthreat data sharing between the federal government and the private sector, but efforts to encode any such law have been stalled by lawmakers routinely during the last several years.