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Prerequisites to join the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program

Should companies obtain U.S. security clearance to join the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program? Mike Chapple offers his perspective.

Our organization is thinking about participating in the DHS Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program, but I heard that it requires that staff have security clearances. Is that true, and how difficult is it to get U.S. security clearance?

The Enhanced Cybersecurity Services (ECS) program, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, had a lofty goal: to provide a channel to share classified threat information with private industry in order to boost overall cybersecurity. However, the program has fallen flat due to the high bureaucratic hurdles put in place to participation.

Your question hits upon one of the two major issues: Employees who will handle information from DHS must have valid U.S. security clearances. Obtaining clearance is an expensive and time-consuming process. Unless your business already has a requirement to handle classified information, you're likely to find that the benefits provided by the program don't justify the investment of time and money required to obtain high-level security clearances for your IT staff.

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The second major barrier is that a security clearance is necessary, but not sufficient, to handle classified information. You must also have the IT infrastructure in place to ensure that there is no commingling of classified and unclassified information. This requires building a secure classified network and building systems dedicated to handling this type of information.

The bottom line is that the program is unlikely to expand beyond the small group of industries that already handle sensitive information. The numbers seem to back this opinion. DHS reported that only 17 businesses joined the program in its first year of operation.

Organizations interested in cybersecurity information sharing would be well-served to look into the growing number of industry-specific information security and analysis centers (ISACs) that foster sharing between the public and private sectors.

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This was last published in June 2014

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