DefCon: Former DHS cyber official to private sector: Gov't can't help you with intelligence

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The former deputy undersecretary for cyber security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a message for the private sector: His former employer can't help you properly respond to security threats.

Speaking at the DefCon hacker conference on Friday morning in Las Vegas, Mark Weatherford, who resigned from the federal role in March, said the government can't act quickly enough to help private companies defend against a possible attack.

"The government isn't going to come in on a big white horse and save you," said Weatherford, who now works as principal at The Chertoff Group, a global advisory company.

Hampered by resource limitations and bureaucratic barriers, such as requiring time-consuming legal approvals to share intelligence data, the government is "unable to provide timely and actionable information," he said. This was a major reason he quit after 18 months.

"I'm a terrible government employee," said Weatherford, who also formerly served as CSO of U.S. electric grid organization NERC and the state of California. "There's too many restrictions."

Part of the problem is attributable to the government classifying too much information, Weatherford said. And even when critical data is able to shared, it's often already been publicly available. 

"It's the same information you saw on CNN yesterday," he said.

But audience member Troy Townsend, who works as a cyber intelligence analyst, said he was skeptical of Weatherford's talk.

"Wasn't he in a position to fix [these problems] while at DHS?" Townsend tweeted.

Weatherford also hammered the government on its inability to transfer federally developed security technology into the hands of the private sector. He called this "heartbreaking."

Weatherford did note some positive developments around information sharing, specifically referencing the threat intelligence data that was passed around following a barrage of DDoS attacks against financial institutions last fall and winter.

He also praised many information-sharing initiatives under way, but said there needs to be "more cohesion across all sectors."

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