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11/5/2009
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Securing The Cyber Supply Chain

Many parties touch your organization's systems and software, potentially exposing them to malware, breaches, or worse. A new end-to-end approach is required to minimize the risks.

Assigning Responsibility

The Department of Defense's fiscal 2010 budget requires DOD to identify vulnerabilities at multiple levels of the supply chain for a number of major IT acquisition programs. The DOD will have to prioritize those vulnerabilities and their potential effects, create recommendations for managing risk, and identify someone to lead development of "an integrated strategy for managing risk in the supply chain."

The Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative, meanwhile, includes a group working on standards, another on sharing supply chain vulnerabilities, and a third on policy, chaired by DOD and the Department of Homeland Security, with participation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Uncle Sam wants to ensure that when agencies purchase products, especially classified as high-impact systems (critical business and national security systems, among others), agencies think about "the threats that can come from the supply chain as systems and software are being built and delivered," says NIST computer security division IT specialist Marianne Swanson, who's heading up the standards working group.

NIST's draft guidelines include elements such as procurement strategies requiring suppliers to carry out specific risk mitigation processes. The departments of Defense and Homeland Security are testing these processes in a pilot project, and their findings will be integrated into a draft report early next year for public comment. The draft identifies 32 practices, such as using contract language that requires suppliers to inform agencies of the identities of their contractors and subcontractors and obvious steps like focusing on the supply chain security of agencies' most critical IT components.

It's too early to tell just what the final draft will look like, but a NIST presentation online lays out security steps throughout the technology life cycle, from design to retirement. The prototype strategy encourages the use of trusted suppliers, service-level agreements related to quality and security during the manufacturing stage, vetting of software updates, use of secure distribution channels, and secure destruction of media after use.

Once DOD and DHS carry out their pilot programs, the General Services Administration will use "market incentives" to make security a bigger part of hardware and software product designs and to encourage development of new security technologies and secure managed services. This process began late last year, when the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council released a draft notice of proposed rule-making that would create an authenticity guarantee for federal contractors and software and hardware vendors. SAIC's Rossman expects policy to be rolled out formally in the next year.

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