New White House Cybersecurity Plan Creates Federal CISO

Cybersecurity National Action Plan aims to increase federal cybersecurity spending by 35 percent to modernize IT and address skills shortage, IoT.

Sara Peters, Senior Editor

February 9, 2016

7 Min Read

As part of a $4 trillion budget bill sent to Congress President Obama called for the US federal government to increase its cybersecurity spending by 35 percent in fiscal year 2017, to $19 billion. The spending boost is one piece of a new Cybersecurity National Action Plan announced by the administration today.  

National Cybersecurity and Federal CISO

The government is still smarting from the major breach at the Office of Personnel Management so one of the key goals of CNAP is to harden federal agencies' internal information security. The proposal includes $3.1 billion for an IT Modernization Fund to retire, replace and modernize legacy IT systems used within the federal government.

Some of that budget will be spent on a new position: the first federal chief information security officer, responsible for driving these changes across the government. It's a senior executive position operating within the Office of Management and Budget, with top-secret security clearance. The position reports to the administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology. The advertised salary range is $123,175 to $185,100.

"Finding a seasoned cyber ‘chief’ willing to take this job at the posted salary level, with no relocation or bonus consideration, will be a very big challenge,” says Dan Waddell, (ISC)managing director and director of US government affairs.

Mark Aiello, president of infosec staffing company Cyber360 is less diplomatic in his assessment.

"This job reminds me of the famous Groucho Marx line about not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member," says Aiello. "I would not want to hire anyone who would want this job."

Although he acknowledges that someone might want this job to "make a difference," they might also want it only to pad their resume or connections and leave within a year or two. Why?

In Aiello's description, the pay is "horrible," the application process "overly burdensome," and the selection process "political." It will be impossible to succeed in the job, largely because the position reports to the equivalent of a CIO -- not the ideal reporting structure for a CISO who needs to be an agent for change.

"It will be thankless and they will become a scapegoat for the inevitable breach," says Aiello. In his opinion, a better solution to hiring a new federal CISO, is to rotate CISOs in from other government agencies for one- to two-year engagements.

“For quite some time, the cybersecurity community at large has been mystified by why there hasn't been a Federal CISO, and now, it looks like we're going to get our wish," says Justin Harvey, Chief Security Officer of Fidelis Cybersecurity. "However, there isn't enough clarity in the announcement that explains exactly what this person is going to be responsible for. More importantly, is the Federal CISO going to have enough control over resources, policy, strategy and operations to have an impact? This plan needs a single owner to be held accountable for cybersecurity while also holding each individual government agency's feet to the proverbial fire for their compliance."

“This Federal CISO will have their work cut out for them, namely, this is centered around having each agency classify their sensitive data," says Harvey. "I am surprised this was explicitly called out, which means that some agencies have not already done this. In the cybersecurity industry, one must first classify what is sensitive in the enterprise before writing policy and implementing technical controls."

"One thing stands out as a real positive to me," says (ISC)2's Waddell. "As a result of the OPM Breach and other agency failures to mitigate risk in a timely fashion, the President has recognized the value of recruiting, retaining and training 'versatile cybersecurity professionals who can effectively facilitate between IT and the mission and business functions,' and [he] plans to charge the new CISO with the priority of addressing this effort."

The administration is also conducting a review to determine where the government can reduce its use of Social Security numbers as identifiers, and it's converted all card readers used by the Treasury Department to Chip-and-PIN.

"The President’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan aims to modernize agencies’ technology and user behavior and we believe it is a broadly positive step forward," says Harley Geiger, director of public policy for Rapid7. "If implemented, the proposal will help support federal agencies that are very much in need of more secure IT to help prevent or mitigate more serious breaches. We hope Congress and the Administration will collaborate to execute this plan."

Skills Shortage

The CNAP also includes a number of measures to address the cybersecurity skills shortage -- particularly the one suffered by the government. It would enhance student loan forgiveness for those who take cybersecurity jobs in the federal government and invest $62 million in grants, scholarships and other programs to enhance the infosec workforce.

It would also develop a cybersecurity Core Curriculum and establish the CyberCorps Reserve, which would provide scholarships to individuals who want cybersecurity education and jobs in the federal government.

"The security industry has talked at length about the latest hacks and breaches, but we haven’t brought enough urgency to solving the cybersecurity talent shortage," says Chris Young, general manager and executive vice president of Intel Security. "More than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. alone were unfilled in summer 2015, and cybersecurity leaders expect 1.5 million more jobs than takers by 2019. Right now, Intel has more than 250 security jobs available in the U.S. We are excited to work with the U.S. government to help make the CyberCorps idea a reality and put us on a path to helping address the cybersecurity workforce shortage."

"I wholeheartedly agree and support the effort to expand the Scholarship for Service program," says (ISC)2's Waddell. "The extreme shortage of qualified professionals, the demand for specialized training, the silver tsunami [aging workforce] and the focus on managing risk is reshaping the role of the cyber practitioner. Efforts like these will help make the federal government attract a greater number of students to the field and better prepare the workforce of the future."


CNAP also sets out plans for improving the private sector's security.

The National Center for Cybersecurity Resilience -- a team-up of the Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, and Energy -- will create a place for organizations to test the security of their systems in a controlled environment "such as by subjecting a replica electric grid to cyber-attack," according to the White House fact sheet.

DHS and other industry partners are creating a new Cybersecurity Assurance Program that will conduct security testing and certification of Internet of Things devices.

Also, the National Cybersecurity Alliance, the government will partner with technology companies to increase public cybersecurity awareness about basic issues like using strong passwords, and help regular citizens better secure themselves.


Today, using an Executive Order, President Obama created a permanent Federal Privacy Council, which "will bring together the privacy officials from across the Government to help ensure the implementation of more strategic and comprehensive Federal privacy guidelines," according to the White House fact sheet.

(Such a group might help with issues that arise from the EU-US Privacy Shield.)

“I'm pleased with the Obama administration's CNAP plan as this is the most forward-thinking, down-to-earth plan we've ever seen from a Presidency on cybersecurity," says Harvey. "It's exciting to see what this administration is thinking and doing, and what could be in store for the country with the next president."

"These proposals merit a mix of near-term action and longer-term consideration, and I am encouraged that the Administration drew heavily on recommendations and best practices from private industry," says Ryan Gillis, vice president, Cybersecurity Strategy and Global Policy at Palo Alto Networks. "However, the ultimate significance of today’s announcements depends heavily upon Congress and the next Administration to implement.  Recognizing that this is a highly polarized election year, we have a precedent of bipartisan cooperation on key cybersecurity initiatives over the last few years, including the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and passage of several pieces of legislation.”

About the Author(s)

Sara Peters

Senior Editor

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad of other topics. She authored the 2009 CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey and founded the CSI Working Group on Web Security Research Law -- a collaborative project that investigated the dichotomy between laws regulating software vulnerability disclosure and those regulating Web vulnerability disclosure.

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