Application Security
9/7/2017
02:00 PM
Jonathan Couch
Jonathan Couch
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Is Public Sector Cybersecurity Adequate?

Many governmental organizations are unstaffed, underfunded, and unprepared to fight common attacks, and they could learn a thing or two from the private sector.

Around the world, the public sector is a particularly attractive target for cyber attacks, and the risks are numerous. How prepared are government entities to address the volume, velocity, and sophistication of today's threats?  

While most military and national intelligence organizations are better prepared to ward off a majority of attacks, many governmental entities are massively unstaffed, underfunded, and unprepared to stave off the standard attacks that target them. Their systems and data are often subjected to resource-constrained security and technology programs that lag in their time to patch/prevent, monitor, detect, and respond to attacks.

The Cisco 2017 Security Capabilities Benchmark Study finds that only 30% percent of the public sector security professionals surveyed say their organizations use penetration testing and endpoint or network forensics tools. In addition, nearly 40% percent of respondents report that of the thousands of alerts they see daily only 65% are investigated. Of those threats investigated, 32% are identified as legitimate threats, but only 47% of those legitimate threats are eventually remediated.

In an attempt to optimize resources and improve cybersecurity, many governments are moving toward a centralized strategy with a single organization that is responsible for monitoring, assisting with, and sometimes implementing security across civilian public sector agencies. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) provide this function for the US government. CERT-UK, CERT-EU, and other government CERTs provide similar services and are working toward centralizing security operations and infrastructure. However, implementing and managing a centralized approach in typically decentralized government structures is difficult due to the level of visibility and coordination required. For example: 

  • Visibility: Identifying and then gaining control of Internet access points across each agency can be scattershot as there will always be some number of "rogue" access points that aren't known or identified.
  • Coordination: Most centralized cybersecurity programs are really just an overlay on existing security programs that each agency already operates. There is quite a bit of coordination that needs to occur — for example between DHS and the Department of State in the US — to make sure that the security gaps are filled, that standards are published and enforced, and that communication is open and frequent to address any incidents that are identified for remediation and prevention in the future.

Despite these challenges, governmental organizations are making progress in protecting their digital assets. But given that they are publicly funded entities that exist to support the constituency versus commercial entities that answer to shareholders, the same incentives don't exist to quickly and effectively implement security programs. Governmental entities are measured by "mission success" often tracked over years, whereas in the private sector the highly visible metrics of growth and profit, tracked on a quarterly basis, are at stake. With the potential for a next generation of attacks aimed at government pension funds, treasuries, and social program agencies, public sector bodies must do more, faster to achieve adequate cybersecurity. They need more robust security programs with greater ability to prevent, monitor, detect, and respond to threats that target them.

Establishing security programs that at least implement the basics of the CIS Critical Security Controls will remove most of the risk and deflect the large majority of attacks. For example, the latest ransomware attacks (WannaCry and Petya) could have been avoided if organizations had just followed the fourth critical control of vulnerability assessment and remediation: patching. So many groups overlook these basics, yet they require little, if any, additional funding to implement.

A lack of skilled security personnel can also hamper security programs. If that's the case, automation (which any security option can provide) and outsourcing can help. Turning on auto-update capabilities for applications and systems can reduce the burden on security teams and make patching more timely. Public sector organizations should also continue to adopt outsourcing strategies to help close the talent gap. The previously cited Cisco report finds that over 40% of public sector organizations fully or partially outsource services such as monitoring and audits. Of those organizations that outsource security services, roughly half cite unbiased insight, cost efficiency, and timely incident response as the top reasons to do so.

Given the digital information and infrastructure at stake, governments should always strive to keep up with the commercial market and how it approaches its security programs. Even baseline measures that require only minimal funding and retooling can go a long way toward answering the question "Is your cybersecurity adequate?" with a resounding "Yes!"

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As Senior VP of Strategy of ThreatQuotient, Jonathan Couch utilizes his 20+ years of experience in information security, information warfare, and intelligence collection to focus on the development of people, process, and technology within client organizations to assist in ... View Full Bio
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imispgh
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imispgh,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2017 | 4:27:39 PM
Lockheed Whistleblower-(CyberArk) - Most organizations avoid key best cybersecurity practices
Privileged Account Security – The massive hole in most organizations cybersecurity. Why isn't it being addressed?  Lack of Courage

 

Organizations are avoiding this key best practice on purpose!!!!!!!!!!

 

My name is Michael DeKort. I am a former systems engineer, engineering and program manager for Lockheed Martin. I worked in aircraft simulation, the Aegis Weapon System, NORAD and on C4ISR for the US Coast Guard and DHS.  I also worked in Commercial IT. Including at CyberArk and in banking, healthcare and insurance.  I also received the IEEE Barus Ethics Award for whistleblowing regarding the DHS/USCG Deepwater program post 9/11.

https://www.thenation.com/article/will-botched-coast-guard-contract-come-back-bite-james-comey

 

The overwhelming majority of companies and government organizations are avoiding the most critical cyber-security practice of all. Dealing with privileged account security. It's the biggest dirty secret in cybersecurity. Which is extremely unfortunate because virtually every hack on record was accomplished by someone gaining access to a privileged account then moving through the system. This usually occurs due to a successful phishing expedition. (Of which 22% are successful. Keep in mind only one is needed).

 

Of the small fraction of companies that even deal with this area and purchase products few of them actually use the products they purchase properly. Many install them then slow roll actually using them to any significant degree for decades. Often this is meant to purposefully deceive C-Suite and regulators. This puts everyone at risk.

 

Here is how bad things are. CMU CERT is the premier authority on cyber-security best practices. Especially for DoD. I found out that CMU CERT has no solution for themselves in this area. They actually defer to CMU IT for their own security and they have no solution in this area. Shouldn't the organization responsible for telling others what best practice is use best practices for its own security?

 

Why is this happening? These products inadvertently expose several huge best practice gaps. Examples include having 4X more accounts than people, non-encrypted password files or spreadsheets, emails with passwords and software programs with passwords hard coded in them and many not knowing where they all are. And having local admin permissions available on laptops and end points and not knowing where they all are either.

 

Why don't these folks address this? Because it means pushing the culture to change bad habits and admit to their executives and boards they even existed in the first place. Governing bodies and regulators mean well but they don't help much. This is because the relevant regulations, SOC, HiTrust etc are too trusting and don't specify enough detail. This gives organizations far too much room to wiggle. This all results in most companies and organizations not utilizing best practices or readily available of off the shelf products that can significantly reduce the threat.

 

This is not a technical issue. It's one of Courage. Courage to admit the root causes exist, To deal with the culture and lead them to fix them. To not sacrifice customers to protect egos or let the bean counters justify it's cheaper to harm customers than the bottom line. 
imispgh
0%
100%
imispgh,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2017 | 4:27:37 PM
Lockheed Whistleblower-(CyberArk) - Most organizations avoid key best cybersecurity practices
Privileged Account Security – The massive hole in most organizations cybersecurity. Why isn't it being addressed?  Lack of Courage

 

Organizations are avoiding this key best practice on purpose!!!!!!!!!!

 

My name is Michael DeKort. I am a former systems engineer, engineering and program manager for Lockheed Martin. I worked in aircraft simulation, the Aegis Weapon System, NORAD and on C4ISR for the US Coast Guard and DHS.  I also worked in Commercial IT. Including at CyberArk and in banking, healthcare and insurance.  I also received the IEEE Barus Ethics Award for whistleblowing regarding the DHS/USCG Deepwater program post 9/11.

https://www.thenation.com/article/will-botched-coast-guard-contract-come-back-bite-james-comey

 

The overwhelming majority of companies and government organizations are avoiding the most critical cyber-security practice of all. Dealing with privileged account security. It's the biggest dirty secret in cybersecurity. Which is extremely unfortunate because virtually every hack on record was accomplished by someone gaining access to a privileged account then moving through the system. This usually occurs due to a successful phishing expedition. (Of which 22% are successful. Keep in mind only one is needed).

 

Of the small fraction of companies that even deal with this area and purchase products few of them actually use the products they purchase properly. Many install them then slow roll actually using them to any significant degree for decades. Often this is meant to purposefully deceive C-Suite and regulators. This puts everyone at risk.

 

Here is how bad things are. CMU CERT is the premier authority on cyber-security best practices. Especially for DoD. I found out that CMU CERT has no solution for themselves in this area. They actually defer to CMU IT for their own security and they have no solution in this area. Shouldn't the organization responsible for telling others what best practice is use best practices for its own security?

 

Why is this happening? These products inadvertently expose several huge best practice gaps. Examples include having 4X more accounts than people, non-encrypted password files or spreadsheets, emails with passwords and software programs with passwords hard coded in them and many not knowing where they all are. And having local admin permissions available on laptops and end points and not knowing where they all are either.

 

Why don't these folks address this? Because it means pushing the culture to change bad habits and admit to their executives and boards they even existed in the first place. Governing bodies and regulators mean well but they don't help much. This is because the relevant regulations, SOC, HiTrust etc are too trusting and don't specify enough detail. This gives organizations far too much room to wiggle. This all results in most companies and organizations not utilizing best practices or readily available of off the shelf products that can significantly reduce the threat.

 

This is not a technical issue. It's one of Courage. Courage to admit the root causes exist, To deal with the culture and lead them to fix them. To not sacrifice customers to protect egos or let the bean counters justify it's cheaper to harm customers than the bottom line. 
REISEN1955
0%
100%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
9/8/2017 | 12:36:36 PM
Re: Sadly, the article title is not a joke
True indeed - basics are a good place to start, usually the ONLY place to start.  The trick is that now government, public houses are under orders for a massive re-vamp to bring them out of the 1970s and 80s to the twenty first century and THAT'S THE HARD PART.  Piling security and cyber on top of that would tax the mind of even the most able cyber specialist these days.  
jjcouch
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50%
jjcouch,
User Rank: Author
9/8/2017 | 10:35:28 AM
Re: Sadly, the article title is not a joke
Thanks for your comment - I completely agree. I went more in-depth originally, but I'm limited by the length of the article I can post so I had to cut it down. The issues that government security organizations face is significant and can't be easily solved - my main point, I guess, is just that these organizations need to get back to the basics and just do "leading practices." While it won't fix everything, it is a huge step in the right direction.
SchemaCzar
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50%
SchemaCzar,
User Rank: Strategist
9/8/2017 | 9:29:34 AM
Sadly, the article title is not a joke
Nor do you even need to read the text to know the answer.  The statistics given are sobering confirmation of the bleak hypotheses security professionals like myself have drawn.  I wish it had gone a bit deeper before turning into a "win one for the Gipper" cheer.
REISEN1955
50%
50%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
9/8/2017 | 8:02:17 AM
Equifax answered my own post
Presuming that Equifax hack was due to an outsouricng of IT ---- YES!!!  They outsourced support to good old true blue IBM - the once great firm that has multiple outsourced failures, lawsuits and blown data centers around the world.  (They are not welcome in Australia anymore).
REISEN1955
50%
50%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
9/7/2017 | 3:07:41 PM
Private or Public?
Does not matter to the degree that both tend to farm out IT staffing and controls to CSRA (what used to be part of CSC to the public sector) and good old Infosys, Tata, Wipro, IBM et al.  The outsourcing firms do NOT have client's best interest at heart.  I have come from a Wipro shop and it was a horror show.  What outsourcing firms DO care about is INVOICE MANAGEMENT and cybersecurity??? HAHAHAHA not a tinker's damn of care.  Oh lip sevice of course but you don't get great talent through outsourcing rules, protocols and staffing.   Some, yes a few individuals, in an outsourced shop do know their stuff.  They are generally rare.  And over-worked as a result.  

Big government however is reported to driving some very very old hardware, going back to the 1970s (such as a nuclear command and contrl which should scare the hell out of anybody).  Nobody is writing malware for IBM System/370 systems anymore but they are probably easy to crack into and THAT should be frightening indeed. 
5 Reasons the Cybersecurity Labor Shortfall Won't End Soon
Steve Morgan, Founder & CEO, Cybersecurity Ventures,  12/11/2017
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