Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants an army of "cyber geeks," and she wants it now.
Napolitano made the plea during a Washington Post Live event Thursday morning, featuring former and current government officials and industry representatives.
When asked what she would do tomorrow to secure cyberspace if possible, Napolitano said she would hire every "cyber geek" who knows anything about hacking and securing computers.
DHS has been given authority to hire 1,000 new cybersecurity professionals, but budget constraints and a lack of trained people makes filling that order difficult, she said.
To help overcome the lack of resources and to help cover all the wide-ranging cyberthreats, the government must partner with the private sector, Napolitano said.
"The government has its capabilities but this will have to an area where everyone has a shared responsibility," she said. Hackers have "come close" to shutting down parts of American infrastructure that are connected to the Internet, Napolitano said.
Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency and of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the NSA, the nation's largest spy agency, should be given a more active role in protecting American networks. The NSA has said it plans to hire an additional 3,000 cybersecurity employees by mid-2012.
Until given more authority and guidance, however, many government resources will remain "on the sidelines" because of the concerns over privacy and government overreach, Hayden, who is now with security consultancy Chertoff Group, said at Thursday's event.