Risk
2/10/2009
04:35 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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President Obama Seeks Immediate Cyber Review

The White House yesterday instructed the National Security and Homeland Security Advisers to immediately conduct a review of all of the federal government's cybersecurity plans and programs.

The White House yesterday instructed the National Security and Homeland Security Advisers to immediately conduct a review of all of the federal government's cybersecurity plans and programs.According to this White House statement, the evaluation will be a 60-day interagency review, with the aim to "develop a strategic framework to ensure that U.S. Government cybersecurity initiatives are appropriately integrated, resourced, and coordinated with Congress and the private sector."

Didn't we already go down this path? Way back in September of 2002, President Bush unveiled the "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" that then called upon "everyone from the largest businesses to consumers to help the federal government track cyberthreats and prevent attacks, particularly those aimed at financial, government, utility, and other key networks."

Best I can tell, in what will be seven years time this November, we've barely made baby-step progress when it comes to securing the national IT infrastructure, if that. The plan largely collected dust -- with no real national direction for the securing of the critical infrastructure: the systems that move money, electricity, communications, food, water, and first responders.

In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) just recently completed a study of the national IT security efforts in this report 'Cyber Analysis And Warning, DHS Faces Challenges in Establishing a Comprehensive National Capability.' Here are some of the key findings from the GAO study:

• Employing predictive cyber analysis -- the organization has not established the ability to determine broader implications from ongoing network activity, predict or protect against future threats, or identify emerging attack methods;

• Developing more trusted relationships to encourage information sharing -- federal and nonfederal entities are reluctant to share information because US-CERT and these parties have yet to develop close working and trusted relationships that would allow the free flow of information;

• Having sufficient analytical and technical capabilities -- the organization has difficulty hiring and retaining adequately trained staff and acquiring supporting technology tools to handle a steadily increasing workload; and

• Operating without organizational stability and leadership within DHS -- the department has not provided the sustained leadership to make cyberanalysis and warning a priority. This is due in part to frequent turnover in key management positions that currently also remain vacant. In addition, US-CERT's role as the central provider of cyberanalysis and warning may be diminished by the creation of a new DHS center at a higher organizational level.

Until DHS addresses these challenges and fully incorporates all key attributes into its capabilities, it will not have the full complement of cyberanalysis and warning capabilities essential to effectively performing its national mission.

Accordingly, we are making 10 recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security to improve DHS's cyberanalysis and warning capabilities by implementing key cyberanalysis and warning attributes and addressing the challenges, including:

• Developing close working and more trusted relationships with federal and nonfederal entities that would allow the free flow of information,

• Expeditiously hiring sufficiently trained staff and acquiring supporting technology tools to handle the steadily increasing workload,

• Ensuring consistent notifications that are actionable and timely,

• Filling key management positions to provide organizational stability and leadership, and

• Ensuring that there are distinct and transparent lines of authority and responsibility assigned to DHS organizations with cybersecurity roles and responsibilities.

We already know what the problems are, and we all already know that the original plan to secure "cyberspace" (which just patched a bunch of different agencies and groups together under DHS) hasn't moved us forward.

My hope is that the results from this review will be used to justify what should have been done long ago: and that's centralize the country's efforts to secure the critical IT infrastructure. Hopefully with a Cabinet-level position.

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