Homeland Security Department to open Silicon Valley office

The government is increasingly turning its attention to hacking and cybersecurity issues. Now it's opening a new office in hopes of working with the talent that powers Silicon Valley's biggest tech firms.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Max Taves
2 min read

Tech companies will soon be competing for talent with a new player in Silicon Valley: the Department of Homeland Security.

During a speech today at the security-focused RSA Conference in San Francisco, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that his department is opening a cybersecurity office in Silicon Valley.

And Johnson wasn't coy about why: he wants to tap into the Valley's minds.

"We want to convince the talented workforce to come to Washington," said Johnson. "The government doesn't have all the answers nor do we have all the talent...We need each other and we must work together. There are things government can do for you and there are things you can (help us do)."

Among the cybersecurity jobs Homeland Security is looking to fill is the role of top cop. Johnson said he's looking for an "all-star" to head DHS' National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, or NCCIC.

The department's move into Silicon Valley marks a recognition of the increasing threat of hacking and the importance of cybersecurity. The Department of Homeland Security, whose main mission has been counter-terrorism, has increasingly focused on cybersecurity, and with good reason: some of the biggest hacking attacks in history have happened in just the past couple of years, and experts warn there's no indication they'll be abating any time soon.

The systems of retailers like Target and Home Depot have been breached, creating millions of dollars in damages. Financial institutions like JP Morgan have also been hit.

And in November, hacking hit a new high when hackers from North Korea attacked Sony Pictures, one of the biggest names in Hollywood. The result was months of embarrassment as film scripts, executives' emails and prereleases of films were leaked on the Internet. The US Government responded, saying more needs to be done. Now, it appears, the DHS is taking some of its first steps in that direction.

"Counter-terrorism is the cornerstone of my department's mission," said Johnson, who added, "cybersecurity has become a mission of equal importance."

Johnson offered few specifics about the department's plans to beef up cybersecurity and how it might achieve that by setting up shop in the Valley; however, he emphasized the problems posed by encryption.

That doesn't mean the department is going to get too cozy with Silicon Valley companies. It still has trouble with the way tech firms have recently approached security. In particular, Apple and Google have begun taking steps to encrypt the information that people store on their iPhones, iPads and devices powered by Google's Android operating system. That's not something the government is fond of, particularly federal officials who claim that making phones inaccessible could hurt police activity.

"Encryption is making it harder for your government to identify criminal activity," said Johnson.