By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
The U.S. government must collaborate with academia and business to protect the country against cyber attacks, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told UC Berkeley students Monday.
Priorities include protecting critical infrastructures such as nuclear power plants and stock exchanges, as well as civil liberties and privacy, Napolitano said. She added that development of an Internet kill switch during a national emergency is a policy that won't come from her office.
Napolitano has been talking up university students since January about the need for new people in the government's quest for cyber security and has visited schools like MIT and George Washington University.
About 150 students attended Napolitano's hourlong talk at UC Berkeley's Sibley Auditorium on Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day, she met with Los Angeles law enforcement officials.
Napolitano said her cyber security department tripled in size from 2009 to 2010. She quoted a private company as saying cyber attacks increased by 93 percent from 2009 to 2010.
"So we still need more people," Napolitano said. "I'm talking to the students here. We need a strong and innovative group to take on this incredible challenge that protections of cyber space demand. We want to be as creative and innovative as possible."
Business needs to "redouble its efforts in the quality of products" it offers to fend off hacking, spamming, spoofing and the like, she said.
"We need technologists who understand policymaking," Napolitano said. "We need technologically savvy people to come work with us. This is an area where we have our greatest challenge and need. We're dealing with multiple risks at the same time."
Napolitano said the U.S. government and industry need to move toward an automated response to cyber attacks that will reduce the time needed to react to a crisis. Part of that is a "strategy for trusted identities in cyber space."
Instead of having user names and passwords that are different for each secure website, Napolitano said a better approach might be to use a single credential for all websites. "Dozens of companies could offer this," she said.
All the new protections the government is working on also must include need for privacy and civil liberties, she said.
"We have always viewed our government as having limitations where privacy is concerned," Napolitano said. "One of the reasons we have lawyers sitting next to our technology staff at the (National Security Agency) is because we understand and embrace the notion that there are real values at issue here."
Napolitano shied away from a question from the audience about whether the government could design an Internet kill switch to cease communications in times of national emergency, "I think there is a very good chance Congress will take up cyber legislation this year," Napolitano said. "The idea of an absolute Internet kill switch, I'm not sure how much potency that has legislatively, but it will be part of the dialogue. Stay tuned."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley