Deferring to Business on Cybersecurity

NIST Chief Promotes National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence
Commerce Undersecretary for Standards and Technology Patrick Gallagher sees the private sector, not government, taking the lead to develop tools, processes and standards to help safeguard IT systems and data in and out of government.

"If the government is in the lead, we're going to quickly become the choke point, if we aren't already," Gallagher, who also serves as director of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, said in an interview with Information Security Media Group at last week's RSA Conference 2012. "I'd rather have the federal government racing to keep up with the private sector."

Gallagher led a team of NIST IT security experts to the annual security conclave in San Francisco, and focused his attention on promoting the recently unveiled National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, a public-private collaboration aimed at accelerating the widespread adoption of integrated cybersecurity tools and technologies, which will be based near NIST's Maryland headquarters in suburban Washington.

The undersecretary touts the importance of the private sector for its technical capabilities and ability to rapidly advance technology. He says the the private sector also can work more efficiently in the global arena than can the federal government to advance IT security.

The Center for Cybersecurity Excellence provides a venue to promote close government-industry collaboration, Gallagher says. "The idea was to provide basically a sandbox, a safe haven where industrial participants working on a new technology could work right along side the NIST technical staff who are working on a technical specification and we work out of a dedicated facility, off the NIST campus, under rules that are really designed to create that safe working space," he says.

In the interview, Gallagher explains how:

  • To judge whether the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence succeeds at its goals.
  • The private sector in the Federal Information Security Management Act.
  • IT security and other areas within NIST can share ideas in developing standards.

President Obama nominated and the Senate confirmed Gallagher as NIST's 14th director in 2009. In 2010, Congress enacted a bill reorganizing NIST that included elevating the NIST director to undersecretary of Commerce for standards and technology.

Gallagher has worked at NIST since 1993 as a scientist, laboratory director and deputy director. He served as interim director from September 2008 until his confirmation.

Gallagher holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pittsburgh. He taught high school math and science for a year after receiving his B.A. in physics and philosophy from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. Gallagher came to the NIST Center for Neutron Research in 1993 to pursue research in neutron and X-ray instrumentation and accompanying studies of the properties of technologically important "soft' materials such as polymers, liquids and gels.

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