Better coordination between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security under an agreement hatched in October is proving useful, a DHS official said.

While DHS is the lead U.S. agency on cyber defense, a new agreement forged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano allows DHS to leverage expertise within the Pentagon the National Security Agency (Defense Daily, Oct. 14).

“Rather than…having to reach out to ask a question of someone at Cyber Command, we are now in a position to have those resources available to us,” said Greg Schaffer, DHS assistant secretary for cyber security and communications. “We will also have our resources available to them.”

Schaffer was speaking to reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

Schaffer noted that the agreement does not alter any authorities previously held by either department, not does it change the way DHS interacts with the private sector.

“We have had a very solid…working relationship with DoD and NSA in the area of cyber for an extended period of time,” he said. “What this really does is enable us to better coordinate and cooperate in areas that we have already been engaged.”

Schaffer said each agency is still responsible for securing its own networks. But in the case of a cyber emergency–for example, a malware attack on multiple agencies–being able to quickly draw on expertise from across the agencies would likely be useful. Schaffer noted that this was the case in Cyber Storm III, a major cyber defense exercise that took place in September.

“If there is a big event, we will have more ready access to a team of people,” Schaffer said.

DHS is still compiling a report to the public on the results of Cyber Storm III, he added.

Schaffer also told reporters that the government is still working to cut the development and deployment timeline for new network protective technology. Pentagon officials have said that this is a primary goal for their cyber policy shop as well. They have said that a new national defense strategy for cyberspace operations should be in place before the end of the year (Defense Daily, Oct. 21).