Transforming Cyber and Infrastructure Security: An Interview with the DHS Cyber Chief

Posted Feb 3, 2016

An exclusive interview with Dr. Phyllis Schneck, deputy under secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications for the National Protection and Programs Directorate within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

As our global online world evolves before our eyes, the topic of cybersecurity seems overwhelming to most people. Just as new innovative opportunities are announced daily, emerging cyberthreats can undermine online progress in virtually every area of life.

The official numbers seem daunting from the U.S. CERT regarding cyberattacks, with incident numbers rising sharply in 2015 (see chart below).

So how can we get our arms around this problem of protecting the homeland from the bad actors in cyberspace? What issues are most pressing? How is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security addressing these challenges? What partnerships and new developments are important?

Perhaps most important: Where is cyberdefense and infrastructure protection heading in 2016 and beyond?
To answer these questions and address a whole list of important security topics, I don’t know of anyone who has a more important and relevant perspective than Dr. Phyllis Schneck.

Schneck is the Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Her impressive career includes senior leadership roles with McAfee, FBI’s InfraGard program, Secure Computing, SecureWorks and several other top technology companies. Schneck received her Ph.D. in computer science from Georgia Tech, and pioneered the field of information security and security-based high-performance computing at Georgia Tech.

On a more personal level, everyone who knows Phyllis sees her passion, excellent speaking skills and dedication to the security profession each and every day. When I spoke with her again last week by phone, she was still as refreshingly kind and humble as she was a decade ago when we met at a state government security leaders gathering as a part of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC).

In 2015, Schneck provided President Obama with a tour of the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC). The NCCIC (which we say "N-Kick") is a 24-hour watch and warning center that consolidates many of the department’s cyber and communications operations centers that respond to emergency incidents. The picture above was mentioned by Phyllis as one of the highlights of her years of service at DHS.

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