WASHINGTON — The government’s cybersecurity chief has abruptly resigned from the Homeland Security Department amid a concerted campaign by the technology industry and some lawmakers to persuade the Bush administration to give him more authority and money for protection programs.
Amit Yoran, a former software executive from Symantec Corp., made his resignation effective Thursday as director of the National Cyber Security Division, giving a single’s day notice of his intention to leave. He kept the job one year.
Yoran has privately confided to industry colleagues his frustrations in recent months over what he considers the department’s lack of attention paid to computer security issues, according to lobbyists and others who recounted these conversations on condition they not be identified because the talks were personal.
Yoran said Friday he “felt the timing was right to pursue other opportunities.” It was unclear immediately who might succeed him even temporarily. Yoran’s deputy is Donald A. “Andy” Purdy, a former White House adviser on cybersecurity.
A department spokeswoman, Tasia Scolinos, praised Yoran as a valuable contributor. “Cybersecurity will continue to be a priority of the Department of Homeland Security, and we plan to move quickly to fill the position with someone who has demonstrated leadership in this important field,” she said.
As cybersecurity chief, Yoran and his division — with an $80 million budget and 60 employees — were responsible for carrying out dozens of recommendations in the Bush administration’s “National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,” a set of proposals to better protect computer networks.
Efforts 'in complete disarray,' critics say
Yoran’s position as a director — at least bureaucratic three steps below Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge — has irritated the technology industry and even some lawmakers. They have pressed unsuccessfully in recent months to elevate Yoran’s role to that of an assistant secretary, which could mean broader authority and more money for programs.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., complained that Yoran’s surprise departure was “yet another setback in the effort to protect our nation’s cyber infrastructure,” and described the efforts as “in complete disarray.” Lofgren and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, leaders on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, have introduced a bill — now stalled in Congress — to make Yoran’s job an assistant secretary’s position.
“It seems almost everyone in this administration who is serious and conscientious and assigned to deal with homeland security, quits out of frustration,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Senior department officials consider equally important the protection of the nation’s physical structures, such as bridges and buildings, and computer networks, which regulate the flow of electricity, phone calls, finances and other information. They maintain that gauging risks to physical structures and computers separately is inefficient and expensive because common problems threaten both.
“The last thing we need to do is bifurcate cyber and physical security,” said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.
Under Yoran, Homeland Security established a cyber alert system, which sends urgent e-mails to subscribers about major virus outbreaks and other Internet attacks as they occur, along with detailed instructions to help computer users protect themselves.
It also mapped the government’s universe of connected electronic devices, the first step toward scanning them systematically for weaknesses that could be exploited by hackers or foreign governments. And it began routinely identifying U.S. computers and networks that were victims of break-ins.
“Amit’s departure provides a challenge for industry and its relationship with the department on cybersecurity,” said Shannon Kellogg, director of government affairs for RSA Security Inc., a leading security firm. “He knew how to get the job done.”
Yoran effectively took over some responsibilities once assigned to Richard Clarke, a special adviser to President Bush, and to Howard Schmidt, who succeeded Clarke but left government during the formation of the Homeland Security Department to work as chief security officer at eBay Inc.
Yoran cofounded Riptech Inc. of Alexandria, Va., in March 1998, which monitored government and corporate computers around the world with an elaborate sensor network to protect against attacks. He sold the firm in July 2002 to Symantec for $145 million and stayed on as vice president for managed security services.
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