The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have drafted a memorandum of understanding on future cooperation between the services in the field of cybersecurity, a homeland security official confirmed Wednesday. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and DHS Secretary Nielsen recently agreed on a framework to protect the United States from cyber threats. Kenneth Rapuano, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Defense and Global Security, told lawmakers at a joint hearing on November 14 that the Joint Memorandum “is an important step in promoting closer cooperation and marks a great change in cooperation between our services.” In the meantime, while subject to legitimate criticism, the agreement allows DHS to access the most advanced U.S. cybersecurity resources to protect national computer networks, the most likely cyber target. While we need to keep a close eye on privacy and the prevention of bureaucratic struggles, this potentially important advance for American cybersecurity should not be overlooked. Rapuano said the intention was to ensure that departments actually progress in day-to-day operations, not just superficial cooperation agreements. A month ago, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation to improve U.S. cybersecurity capabilities. In particular, the memorandum aims to improve cybersecurity cooperation in strategic planning, capacity development and mission activities. The agreement pursues these objectives by defining specific common and individual responsibilities for the two divisions. One of the expected benefits of the agreement is improved DHS` access to DoD, especially the NSA, resources and know-how, especially the Cryptologic Services Group.
It is interesting to note that the agreement comes shortly after a report by an inspector general that criticizes the vulnerability to cyberattacks against DHS systems. Whether the sharing of resources will contribute to the treatment of its systems is unclear, given that the agreement appears to be aimed at strengthening synchronization with respect to certain operations rather than exacerbating general weaknesses. A Homeland Security official confirmed that the agreement had been reached, but did not give further details. The infrastructure protection approach is only the result of a new agreement signed between Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Defense Secretary James Mattis. This is the latest of several agreements over the past decade that are specific to cyber-cooperation, but officials said that the latest version this week, at a hearing in the House of Representatives, boils down to a “change of the sea” in the relationship between DoD and DHS.