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Feds Say Agencies On Track To Use CyberScope

CyberScope represents major shift in the way federal agencies report FISMA compliance
When the federal government flips the switch to replace the government's arduous paper-based cybersecurity compliance process with a web-based one next month, agencies will be ready for the move, federal officials said Friday, despite a survey released this month that showed misgivings about readiness as recently as late July.

The new compliance tool, CyberScope, is scheduled to go live on November 15, and agencies are expected thereafter to answer compliance-related questions about their cybersecurity postures online, rather than through massive once-a-year paper reports that, as White House officials have admitted, gather dust on shelves.

"The reporting should be a byproduct of our security posture, not the end," federal CIO Vivek Kundra said. "The intent with CyberScope was first and foremost to make sure we're not just collecting information for information's sake, but we're acting to improve our security posture."

CyberScope represents a major shift in the way federal agencies report their compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act, the law governing government cybersecurity. The goal, officials have repeatedly said since announcing the tool late last year, is to place an emphasis on operational security as opposed to meaningless, once-a-year compliance reporting.

In the past, substantive analysis required auditors to pour through paper-based reports for data, but the new web-based tool will enable quicker, cheaper analysis and a deeper understanding of federal cybersecurity, which should help determine just how secure federal agencies are. Agencies, themselves, won't have to write out physical reports anymore, and, as they bring new technology on board, will be able to automatically and in real time submit data to CyberScope.

"All agencies required to report will definitely be able to report by November 15," said Matt Coose, director of the federal network security branch of the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Division.

In the time since MeriTalk fielded a vendor-sponsored survey of federal officials this summer that indicated a large swath hadn't used the tool and didn’t have a clear understanding of its mission or requirements, the DHS has done training and outreach with officials, educating agencies on the system and its requirements.

Still, agencies are only beginning to bolster the use of security management tools that will leverage CyberScope's more advanced features, which allow for automated input of security data. "The level of maturity with security management tools will vary somewhat," Coose noted. In the beginning, most of the data entry into CyberScope will be manual, Coose said, even though by November 15 most agencies will be able to automatically submit at least some data directly into CyberScope through XML feeds from their security tools.

CyberScope, which will be operated by DHS, is a core piece of a three-part, data-driven cybersecurity strategy coming from the White House that includes the adoption of security management tools, benchmarking for cybersecurity performance, and tackling agency-specific issues one by one.

Next year's budget guidance, for example, will ask agencies to invest in security management tools as part of their cybersecurity budget, according to officials. These tools will automatically feed data into CyberScope and should also enable agencies to get a better grip of their own cybersecurity. CyberScope will also serve as a foundation to a federal cybersecurity dashboard that's currently in development.

As the use of these tools grows and CyberScope itself becomes more sophisticated, agencies will be able to report more and more data automatically into CyberScope. Already, CyberScope can take in asset, configuration, and vulnerability management data being generated by agencies' management tools. The ultimate goal would be to have a vast majority of the data reported automatically, thus cutting overhead and time to analysis.

This real-time data, in turn, could be used by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team and other government cybersecurity watchdogs to make operational decisions about how to mitigate vulnerabilities and threats; by high-level officials to make policy and budget decisions; and by agencies to protect their own networks.

As the Department of Homeland Security and others work to increase CyberScope's sophistication, it is approaching new metrics with security automation in mind. DHS has tasked a working group within the federal CIO Council to determine what the next automated feeds should be, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is continuing to do work on related standards. Last month, DHS held a workshop at an annual government cybersecurity conference with vendors to discuss capabilities, tools, and potential metrics.

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