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Cybersecurity Tensions Between Public, Private Sector

Neither side is meeting the other's expectations for sharing information, according to a GAO report.




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A new report from the government's watchdog agency shows tensions between the public and private sector on their partnership to address cybersecurity threats.

The report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- written in July but published this week -- shows both sides griping about the other's failure to meet expectations about sharing information to protect critical infrastructure against attacks.

On one hand, the private sector said the government is not doing its part to provide information, alerts and other guidance about cyber threats so critical-infrastructure owners can prepare and react in a timely fashion, according to the report.

On the other, federal agencies said that private-sector companies are hesitant to share proprietary information with them for fear of public disclosure and potential loss of market share, the GAO said.

Specifically, the federal government scored low marks with private-sector stakeholders on expectations to receive "timely and actionable" information and guidance in several areas.

Only 27 percent of respondents said they "greatly or moderately received" cyber threat information from the feds, while the same percentage said the same about receiving cyber alerts.

Moreover, 16 percent said that they "greatly or moderately" received access to classified or sensitive information.

Federal agencies focused on cybersecurity -- in particular the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- have been working with private companies and other stakeholders outside of the government in a variety of ways to better protect critical infrastructure against cyber attacks. For example, the DHS shares intelligence information with key company CIOs that can help them stave off network security threats.

Cooperation and partnership between the two groups is necessary because the majority of networks on which the Internet and government networks run is owned by private companies. Cybersecurity is a major priority for the Obama administration especially to protect federal IT networks, which are consistently the target of intrusion.

However, the GAO has issued several reports lately hammering the federal government on challenges it faces in its cybersecurity efforts.

Moreover, while Congress is considering a number of cybersecurity bills, it has yet to pass comprehensive legislation.

To improve the state of affairs between the public and private sector, the GAO recommended in the report that Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt and DHS work harder to ensure information is being shared in a timely and consistent fashion between federal and private stakeholders.

While the DHS agreed with the agency's recommendations, the Cybersecurity Coordinator did not comment on the report.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributing Writer

Contributor, Dark Reading

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer, journalist, and therapeutic writing mentor with more than 25 years of professional experience. Her areas of expertise include technology, business, and culture. Elizabeth previously lived and worked as a full-time journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City; she currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, hiking with her dogs, traveling, playing music, yoga, and cooking.

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