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White House Sets Cybersecurity Priorities

Agencies should focus on safer Internet connections, continuous monitoring of systems, and authentication, says cybersecurity chief.

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Obama Administration cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt has set an agency-wide goal for agencies to implement priorities to help protect federal IT systems against cyberattack.

Schmidt is pushing agencies to achieve 95% utilization of critical administration cybersecurity capabilities on IT systems in the areas of Trusted Internet Connections (TIC), continuous monitoring, and strong authentication by 2014. The effort is part of the agency's Cross-Agency Priority Goals initiative on Performance.gov, Schmidt said in White House blog post.

The White House set up the program as part of a broader government accountability effort to spur agencies to achieve performance outcomes on key administration goals in a variety of areas. The feds use the Performance.gov website to grade agencies on their improvement efforts.

Schmidt joined with experts from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the National Institute for Standards and Office of Management and Budget to identify the three cybersecurity priorities with limited federal budgets in mind, giving agencies reasonable guidance for achieving improvements going forward.

[ A dramatic increase in security incidents at federal agencies over the past five years is driving renewed security efforts. Read more at Federal Cybersecurity Incidents Rocket 650% In 5 Years. ]

"Federal departments and agencies must defend their information systems in a resource-constrained environment. Balancing system security and survivability while meeting numerous operational requirements requires robust risk management," Schmidt said in the post.

He also provided guidance for how to improve in each of the priority areas:

--In the area of TIC, agencies should focus on consolidating external telecommunication connections and ensuring a set of baseline security capabilities for situational awareness and enhanced monitoring.

--To improve continuous monitoring, agencies should turn what's historically been a static assessment of security controls into a more "dynamic risk mitigation program" to provide more real-time status updates and increase visibility into system operations.

--Finally, to foster strong authentication, agencies should step up their efforts to set up smartcard credential systems that provide multifactor authentication and digital signature and encryption capabilities for accessing federal IT systems and facilities.

The White House is aligning its latest cybersecurity guidance with these priorities to help agencies achieve their goals, according to Schmidt.

For instance, in the area of continuous monitoring, the federal government has now mandated that agencies submit a monthly security report through an online compliance tool called CyberScope. This mandate is a new requirement of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), NIST's security standard for federal IT solutions.

The priorities also are a focus of an update to NIST's recently released official federal cybersecurity standards.

Attend InformationWeek's IT Government Leadership Forum, a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in government come together to discuss how they're using technology to drive change in federal departments and agencies. It happens in Washington, D.C., May 3.

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