DHS Unity of Effort delivers improved critical infrastructure protection IT

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Michael Brody and Christy Riccardi

Two master’s degree graduates from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) were leading forces in implementing a key set of Department of Homeland Security recommendations aimed at better protecting the nation’s infrastructure by delivering improved information sharing and IT at the National Protection and Programs Directorate Office of Infrastructure Protection.

The Office of Infrastructure Protection (IP) along with the Office of the Chief Information Officer signed a memorandum in December 2014 committing to a partnership that will facilitate enhanced information sharing systems and governance for security assessments of the nation’s infrastructure assets.

“By having stronger governance in our IP IT programs we ensure more accountability and transparency to our mission users and their requirements for infrastructure protection,” said Michael Brody, CHDS alumnus and Policy Manager with DHS Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). “Stronger governance helps ensure users get the services they need to accomplish their mission.”

Brody and fellow CHDS alumnae Christy Riccardi were lead players in the project. The review came at the behest of NPPD Assistant Secretary for IP Caitlin Durkovich. The IP Gateway serves as the single interface through which DHS mission partners can access a large range of integrated IP tools, capabilities, and information to conduct comprehensive vulnerability assessments, risk analysis, and event and incident planning.

The IP Gateway system was maturing and IP wanted to examine how it could, among other measures, share sometimes sensitive information regarding infrastructure owned by another level of government or private enterprise. IP also wanted to study how it could interface with other DHS enterprise systems and how it could better interact with HSIN, an information platform already used by the critical infrastructure community.

A comprehensive review identified key areas to be addressed, which involved interviewing about 40 key stakeholders representing federal, tribal, state and local levels of governing to determine what kind of information organizations needed out of the IP Gateway system. A series of recommendations culminated in the December 14 memorandum.

Broadly, the memorandum lays out three areas of ongoing cooperation between Infrastructure Protection and OCIO:

  • Increased collaboration on the use of the Homeland Security Information Network
  • Expanded protected critical infrastructure information sharing
  • Joint stakeholder management
  • A series of coordinated development work, including simplified sign-on between HSIN and the IP Gateway

The governing body will include government and private-sector stakeholders.

“The establishment of the IP IT Governance Board as recommended through the Joint 30-Day assessment ensures future information technology investments will be supported by comprehensive policy, strategy and State, Local, Tribal, Territorial input,” said CHDS master’s degree graduate John McNamara, Critical Infrastructure Analyst with the New York State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services.  “The joint assessment also functioned as a catalyst enabling IP Gateway stakeholders to identify and establish administrative requirements which support State, Local, Tribal, Territorial needs.”

“During the process, synthesizing the input from the varied stakeholders provided great insight to achieving our goals,” said Brody. In addition to representatives from the involved DHS components there were representatives from 10 states and one tribal nation during the review phase.

The IP Gateway system includes tools to enable IP Protective Security Advisors, or onsite personnel employed by the infrastructure asset, to conduct security assessments, Riccardi noted. The Gateway system interacts with HSIN through common user identification and authentication, ensuring a secure, customized experience for each user.  HSIN also compliments the IP Gateway, by sharing threat, incident, protective measures and other related information with appropriate infrastructure owners in an unclassified format.

Between the IP Gateway and HSIN, multiple stakeholder sets are served through a variety of tools and individual capabilities.  For example, assessment tools are valuable to government stakeholders at all levels to collect and assess the security posture of infrastructure assets and systems.   Meanwhile, government and industry partners need access to information products in a secure, collaborative environment.  By managing these tools collectively at an enterprise level and in partnership with internal and external partners, such as the OCIO, IP is able to provide a comprehensive capability set in support of the critical infrastructure mission.

“We can look at information needs and decide how they can be applied to more than one stakeholder and how our office can collaborate,” Riccardi said. “They are customers of these tools and their input is important and delicate.”

A CHDS education was valuable while navigating a project involving collaboration, rising above “silo thinking” and crafting complex policy, the pair agreed.

Brody cited courses on critical infrastructure protection taught by former CHDS instructors Ted Lewis and Rudy Darken as well as policy and strategic planning taught by NPS Assistant Professor Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez.

“He had us read all these great public policy and strategy books and exercise in class all the realities of implementing public policy,” Brody said.  “I drew on that education a lot in looking at how to conduct the assessments and deliver meaningful recommendations that were actually implemented. It was more than a theoretical experience. I applied what I learned to meaningful outcomes.”

Riccardi credited CHDS education for including varied professions and levels of government represented in its student composition, that same type of situation she faced in conducting the review.

“Learning those softer skills of navigating through a group of diverse opinions and perspectives was valuable,” she said. “The review required the diplomacy of bringing together different stakeholders, like the CHDS classroom.”

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