Feds To Test Cybersecurity System

The Department of Homeland Security offered details on privacy controls in its secret Einstein 3 cyber intrusion detection and prevention system.
The Department of Homeland Security plans to work with a commercial Internet service provider and one federal agency to carry out a pilot test of Einstein 3, an intrusion detection and prevention system that will eventually be used to bolster federal agencies' information security postures.

DHS detailed the plans in a privacy impact statement -- required for new IT systems in government -- that it published last Thursday, along with some of the deepest detail yet of the partially classified system, the technology for which has largely been developed by the National Security Agency.

Einstein 3 will follow up on the Einstein 2 intrusion detection system, which is currently readying for operational deployment, and the first Einstein system, which collects network traffic data. It has been the subject of some controversy as observers have expressed privacy concerns in the media and on Capitol Hill about the government's use of data it collects.

According to the privacy impact statement, the pilot program will solidify the processes required to "manage and protect information gleaned from observing cyber intrusions" and will help DHS map out its path for implementing Einstein 3 more widely.

Einstein 3 will do real-time, deep packet inspection and "threat-based decision making" on network traffic at the edge of federal agency networks. The effort will redirect agency Internet traffic to DHS cybersecurity systems, which will apply pre-defined signatures to the traffic to determine which traffic might be associated with cyber threats and how to respond.

That traffic will be made available to cybersecurity analysts at the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team for review, while the rest of the traffic won't be retained by DHS. US-CERT will then automatically alert federal agencies of network intrusion attempts. Thus, Einstein 3 could bolster information sharing between US-CERT and federal agencies.

Einstein 3 will make use of the capabilities of both Einstein 1 and 2 to help build its own IDS capabilities, but with greater speed and processing power and both classified and unclassified signatures. Many of the analytical tools for managing security information will also remain the same as those currently being used.

According to the statement, certain attack alerts may be sent to the NSA so that the NSA can carry out its mission of signals intelligence. "This initiative makes substantial and long-term investments to increase national intelligence capabilities to discover critical information about foreign cyber threats and use this insight to inform EINSTEIN 3 systems in real time," the privacy impact statement says. "DHS will be able to adapt threat signatures determined by NSA in the course of its foreign intelligence and [Department of Defense] information assurance missions for use in the EINSTEIN 3 system in support of DHS's federal system security mission."

The system will be backed up by strong privacy policy, according to the DHS. "No agency traffic is collected or retained by US-CERT unless it is associated with a cyber threat," the statement says. "Other agency traffic is not stored." Einstein will also restrict its use to participating agencies' IP addresses and will not use commercial or publicly available information about individuals. DHS additionally plans to strictly limit the collection and use of personally identifiable information and limit access to the Einstein system itself.

DHS will keep the data the pilot collects for as long as one year after the pilot is done, or may purge some data early, depending on US-CERT's determination of the data's usefulness.

DHS' test will take place over four phases, one to assess the ISP's ability to redirect traffic, another to install the technology, a third to bring the Einstein pilot online and ramp up the tests, and a fourth to carry out an extended test and review of capabilities over a full year. The pilot will be limited to a single federal agency. However, it's not clear when the pilot will begin.

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