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7 Key Homeland Security IT Developments Since 9/11

DHS has had mixed success over the past 10 years as it has created information sharing portals, biometrics systems, cybersecurity organizations, and border security technology.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The Government Accountability Office this week released a 226-page report giving the Department of Homeland Security mixed reviews in carrying out its mission since 9/11. Information technology plays a significant role in DHS' efforts, and these seven examples cited in the report demonstrate that while DHS is making progress on some fronts, many challenges remain.

Homeland Security Information Network: HSIN may get less publicity these days than some DHS efforts, but it is at the core of DHS' mission as a locus for homeland security information sharing. HSIN is a secure portal for security alerts, advisories, and information on homeland security technologies, and is used by a large network of federal, state, local, and private sector organizations, from emergency management to law enforcement to critical infrastructure providers. The portal includes document libraries, instant messaging, incident reporting, discussion boards, and numerous other features.

U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team: When DHS created US-CERT in 2003, it stood up what's since become a key government player in terms of responding to cyberattacks. Federal agencies now regularly report cyber incidents to the organization, which responds by sharing information with both the public and private sectors and investigating attacks. While US-CERT has become a cornerstone of DHS' cyber efforts, it's undergoing some turmoil right now, as former director Randy Vickers resigned abruptly in July.

Trusted Internet Connections and Einstein: The TIC and Einstein programs show how DHS is becoming a central part of the protection of the .gov networks. TIC is an effort to consolidate external network connections and Internet access points within the agency. Federal agencies have made progress here, and DHS is developing tools to ensure agencies meet federal guidelines. Einstein, meanwhile, has evolved from a government-wide network monitoring effort to one that will include a focus, in the next iteration of the program, on intrusion prevention.

Cyber Storm: The Internet has three times now come under simulated attack in a set of DHS exercises called Cyber Storm that bring in constituents from across federal, state, local, and foreign governments and the private sector, including high-ranking officials. From these exercises, the DHS has gathered a number of lessons learned, and has taken corrective actions after each exercise to tweak processes for responding to attacks.

U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology: US-VISIT aims to use biometric technology and databases to identify foreign visitors entering and leaving the country in order to spot identity fraud, criminals, and immigration violations. US-VISIT has led to hundreds of arrests and thousands of watch-list hits. The technology is now being used at 300 points of entry into the country, and DHS has been working to implement capability to ID foreigners on the way out of the country as well. However, it's unclear when that piece of US-VISIT will be in place.

SBInet: While a number of the projects on this list exemplify the progress DHS has made, SBInet is an example of where things have gone wrong. The project aimed to deploy intelligent physical security systems along the border with Mexico, but quickly went off the rails. Contractor Boeing failed to deliver, and DHS has been cited for failing to properly manage the projects. Missed delivery dates, cost overruns, and user complaints led to a decrease in the project scope and eventually to SBInet's cancellation earlier this year. DHS is now embarking on a new border technology plan that includes some of the technology used in SBInet.

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