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US names cyber chief, House eyes more clout for job

The Department of Homeland Security named an acting U.S. cybersecurity chief on Thursday as Congress weighed whether to give the position greater clout to fight hackers, viruses and other online threats.
/ Source: Reuters

The Department of Homeland Security named an acting U.S. cybersecurity chief on Thursday as Congress weighed whether to give the position greater clout to fight hackers, viruses and other online threats.

Andy Purdy was named interim U.S. cybersecurity director one week after Amit Yoran suddenly resigned from the post amid reports that he was frustrated with his lack of authority. Purdy was Yoran's deputy and had advised the White House on cybersecurity issues.

The House of Representatives was expected later Thursday to vote to elevate Purdy's position within the department, a move backed by tech-industry officials who say the government is not devoting enough attention to online threats.

"We need a full-time government official ... with the clout to take America's information infrastructure off the table for terrorists," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"Amit Yoran's decision to leave after one year suggests that the current post of national cybersecurity director does not carry enough weight to get the job done," Miller said.

The promotion of the post was added this week to a massive bill that reorganizes the government's intelligence efforts.

That bill would also require government agencies to show they have taken security into account when they put in requests for new technology systems.

"I think most honest observers would say that there's been very little attention paid, certainly insufficient attention paid, to cybersecurity," said California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a sponsor of the measure.

Under the bill, the 60-person-strong cybersecurity office would no longer be subordinate to the division that oversees efforts to protect power plants, water-treatment systems and other "critical infrastructure."

The cybersecurity director would instead report directly to the undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection, one step below Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

In the Senate, a similar measure was stripped out of that chamber's intelligence reorganization bill on Wednesday, but lawmakers could insert it back into the final version that heads to the president's desk to be signed into law.