Marcia Savage asks Phyllis Schneck
, InfraGard's national chair, how an FBI pilot project developed into a collaborative group of more than 10,000 enthusiastic members who donate their time and energy to defend the nation's cyberspace
When someone asked her
friend if he'd heard of "this thing called InfraGard," Phyllis Schneck
was thrilled.As chair of InfraGard's national executive board, Schneck believes the random question shows that the organization is on its way to fulfilling her ambition for it to become a household name.
Since its inception in 1996 as an FBI pilot project in Cleveland, Ohio, InfraGard
has grown into a national entity dedicated to sharing information between private industry and the U.S. government in order to protect the nation's critical infrastructures.InfraGard
has around 10,700 members and 79 chapters across the country.
While there have been many changes since InfraGard
laid out its strategic plan in 2001 - such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) - Schneck
believes the group has moved a long way towards meeting its goals.SC Magazine
caught up with her
to talk about the group's accomplishments, objectives and challenges ahead.
Back in 2001, much of Infra-Gard's
information-sharing strategy revolved around working with the FBI's
National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC).With the creation of DHS
, NIPC last year was transitioned to the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) directorate, which is charged with identifying and assessing threat information, issuing warnings and taking protective action.But the FBI
private-sector members worked to keep InfraGard
as an FBI
program, recalls Schneck.InfraGard's
chapters are centered around FBI field offices."We didn't want to disrupt the trust and relationships that were being built nationwide," says Schneck, who started with InfraGard in 2000 as founding president of the Atlanta chapter.She
was elected national chair in 2002, and was re-elected last June.She
plans to receive information analysis from DHS
and is meeting with IAIP leaders to "determine the best fit for InfraGard within the infrastructure protection architecture being created."The creation of DHS hasn't affected InfraGard's operations, maintains Schneck, who has a Ph.D. in computer science.
"The migration of NIPC over to DHS IAIP has opened up a whole new world of opportunity," she
"We're focusing on how we work with the different agencies, so we can truly define working together," says Schneck
."Many people use the phrase 'working together,' but we are actually trying to do it."She
adds that InfraGard
is a pioneer in private- and public-sector collaboration.
The size and demographics of InfraGard's
membership have put it in the ideal position to achieve the goal it set out in 2001 of becoming the designated private-sector group to partner with the government on information sharing, contends Schneck
.The volunteer organization's membership has more than doubled in the past three years.
is the only private-sector organization with outreach that ranges from Fortune 500
executives to medium and small businesses," she
Withers also praises Schneck's
leadership, which he
says provided much-needed stability during NIPC's transition to DHS
In addition to shepherding InfraGard
through a changing federal landscape, Schneck
also led InfraGard's
global efforts, travelling with Hovington to Tokyo last year to address the Japanese government on information sharing.
Looking forward, Schneck
says InfraGard plans to reach out to more small and medium businesses and make sure that it has its organizational structure in place in order to establish partnerships with other agencies.Another high priority for the group is information exchange with DHS
and the various industry sector Information Sharing and Analysis Centers
Challenges on the road ahead
There are plenty of challenges ahead for InfraGard
, acknowledges Schneck
acknowledges that setting up an architecture so 10,000 people can get timely and accurate information while maintaining the integrity of the organization - "letting it grow big enough and yet keeping it a special population" - is no small task.
With so many groups focused on critical infrastructure protection and information sharing, marketing is another challenge, says Schneck
."We are very, very different," she
asserts, adding that InfraGard
strongly discourages vendor sales pitches at meetings.
Security boils down to implementing a culture in business - one that views security as a business enabler and assigns companies responsibility for protecting their assets, advises Schneck
"Homeland security is going to help with that by providing as much information as it possibly can, but it really is up to us in the private sector to use that information and to help [DHS] help us," she