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Back to Archives | Back to December 2003 Contents 

The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace

Cyberspace is the nerve system—the control system—of the United States.

The nation's critical infrastructures are composed of public and private institutions in the sectors of agriculture, food, water, public health, emergency services, government, defense industrial base, information and telecommunications, energy, transportation, banking and finance, chemicals and hazardous materials, and postal and shipping. Controlling it all is cyberspace, a composition of hundreds of thousands of interconnected computers, servers, routers, switches, and fiber optic cables that allow the critical infrastructures to work. Thus the healthy functioning of cyberspace is essential to the Untied States economy and national security.

Threat and Vulnerability
The U.S. economy and national security is fully dependent upon information technology and the information infrastructure. At the core of the information infrastructure is the Internet, a system originally designed to share unclassified research among scientists who were assumed to be uninterested in abusing the network. It is this same Internet that today connects millions of other computer networks making most of the nation's essential services and infrastructures work. These computer networks also control physical objects such as electrical transformers, trains, pipeline pumps, chemical vats, radars, and stock markets, all of which exist beyond cyberspace.

A spectrum of malicious attacks against the critical information can and do occur. Of primary concern is the threat of organized cyberattacks capable of causing debilitating disruption to critical U.S. infrastructures, economy, and national security. The required technical sophistication to carry out such an attack is high—and partially explains the lack of a debilitating attack to date. There have been instances where organized attackers have exploited vulnerabilities that are indicative of more destructive capabilities. It is known that the attack tools and methods are becoming widely available, and the technical capability and sophistication of users bent on causing havoc or disruption is improving.

Cyberattacks on U.S. information networks can have serious consequences such as disrupting critical operations, causing loss of revenue and intellectual property, or loss of life. Countering such attacks requires the development of robust capabilities where they do not exist today to reduce vulnerabilities and to deter those with the capabilities and intent to harm critical infrastructures.

The Government's Role in Securing Cyberspace
There are specific instances where federal, state, and local governments must assume a major role in securing cyberspace. Looking inward, providing continuity of government at every level requires ensuring the safety of the each level of government's own cyberinfrastructure and those assets required for supporting its essential missions and services. Externally, a government role in cybersecurity is warranted in cases where high transaction costs or legal barriers lead to significant coordination problems; cases in which governments operate in the absence of private sector forces; resolution of incentive problems that lead to under provisioning of critical shared resources; and raising awareness.

Federal government actions to secure cyberspace are warranted for purposes including the following: forensics and attack attribution, protection of networks and systems critical to national security, indications and warnings, and protection against organized attacks capable of inflicting debilitating damage to the economy. Federal activities should also support research and technology development that will enable the private sector to better secure privately owned portions of the critical infrastructure.

Department of Homeland Security and Cyberspace Security
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established on November 25, 2002, for the purpose of improving homeland security. DHS has important responsibilities in cyberspace security. These responsibilities include the following:

  • Developing a comprehensive national plan for securing the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States
  • Providing crisis management in response to attacks on critical information systems
  • Providing technical assistance to the private sector and other government entities with respect to emergency recovery plans for failures of critical information systems
  • Coordinating with other agencies of the federal government to provide specific warning information and advice about appropriate protective measures and countermeasures to state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations including the private sector, academia, and the public
  • Performing and funding research and development along with other agencies that will lead to new scientific understanding and technologies in support of homeland security

Consistent with these responsibilities, DHS will become a federal center of excellence for cybersecurity and provide a focal point for federal outreach to state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations including the private sector, academia, and the public. Inside DHS, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate analyzes intelligence and information from other agencies involving threats to homeland security and evaluate vulnerabilities in the nation's infrastructure. It brings together the following:
  • Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (Commerce)
  • Federal Computer Incident Response Center (GSA)
  • National Communications System (Defense)
  • National Infrastructure Protection Center (FBI)
  • Energy Security and Assurance Program (Energy)

The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace articulates five national priorities. The first priority focuses on improving response to cyberattacks and reducing the potential damage from such events. The second, third, and fourth priorities aim to reduce threats from and vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. The fifth priority is to prevent cyberattacks that could compromise national security assets and to improve the international management of and response to such attacks.

A National Effort
Protecting the widely distributed assets of cyberspace requires the efforts of many people. The federal government alone cannot sufficiently defend cyberspace. Organizations outside of the federal government will need to take the lead in many of these efforts. Every person who can contribute to securing part of cyberspace is encouraged to do so. The creation of public-private partnerships to raise cybersecurity awareness, train personnel, stimulate market forces, improve technology, identify and remediate vulnerabilities, exchange information, and plan recovery operations is necessary. Threats and vulnerabilities to the infrastructure will be reduced as each person and as each critical infrastructure sector implements initiatives.

The purpose of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is to engage and empower all Americans to secure the portions of cyberspace that they own, operate, or control or with which they interact. Securing cyberspace is a difficult strategic challenge that requires coordinated and focused effort from the entire society—the federal government, state and local governments, the private sector, and the people. ♦

For more information, read the report National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, available at

Please cite as:

"The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace," The Police Chief 70 (December 2003): 32–33.



From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 12, December 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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