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Cybersecurity

United States Woefully Lacking a Cohesive Cyberspace Strategy, Says GAO

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2010 – Federal agencies have not provided top-level leadership for the United States on cybersecurity issues, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. Additionally, the United States possesses no “clear vision” of how cybersecurity impacts national goals. Rather, the nation has engaged in an ad hoc selection of cybersecurity measures.

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WASHINGTON, August 3, 2010 – Federal agencies have not provided top-level leadership for the United States on cybersecurity issues, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (pdf).

While cybersecurity efforts have been sustained at a high level within the departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice and State, top-level leadership is lacking, says the report. Additionally, the United States possesses no “clear vision” of how cybersecurity impacts national goals. Rather, the nation has engaged in an ad hoc selection of cybersecurity measures.

In assessing the United States’ cybersecurity infrastructure and a potential future for it, the report makes several recommendations for how the United States ought to prosecute a strategy to combat cyberattacks. It should:

  • Provide “top-level leadership” on these issues;
  • Develop a “coherent and comprehensive strategy” for dealing with these issues;
  • Coordinate across all relevant federal entities;
  • Ensure cyberspace-related technical standards and policies do not pose unnecessary barriers to U.S. trade;
  • Participate in international cyber incident response;
  • Recognize the “differing legal systems” by which these cybercrimes are prosecuted; and
  • Define international norms for cyberspace.

The GAO finds fault with the federal government’s response on almost all of these fronts, though it pays special attention to the government’s failures on the first three recommendations. In regard to the first one, the GAO criticizes federal agencies for an overly technical view of the bureaucratic balance of power.

“Although the Department of State is charged with leading other federal agencies in establishing global networks to share threat information, department officials stated that only the president or an executive entity such as the [National Security Council] possesses the necessary authority to direct agencies such as DHS to participate,” wrote the report’s authors.

With respect to the second recommendation, on a coherent and comprehensive strategy, the report claims that, while the United States has drafted several documents outlining strategies for combating cybercrime, “none of the documents, taken individually or collectively, provide a comprehensive strategy.”

For example, while the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace states that the State Department will lead other federal agencies, the strategy does not articulate either specific supporting activities or time frames in which to accomplish this or other objectives.

The report notes that federal officials have claimed to be developing such a strategy pursuant to the president’s Cyberspace Policy Review. However, the authors write, “we have not seen any evidence of such activities and, thus, were unable to determine what progress, if any, has been made towards accomplishing this goal.”

Finally, with respect to the third goal, dealing with coordination of relevant federal entities, the report is unequivocally damning.

“Federal agencies have not demonstrated an ability to coordinate their activities and project clear policies on a consistent basis,” the report says. “Unless federal agencies institutionalize a coordination mechanism that engages all key federal entities, it is less likely that federal agencies will be aware of each other’s efforts, or that their efforts, taken together, will support U.S. national interests in a coherent or consistent fashion.”

In envisioning a potential future path, the report concludes, “The rapid integration of information and communication technologies into virtually every aspect of modern life and the increase in associated threats have outpaced efforts by the United States and the international community…Until these challenges are addressed, the United States will be at a disadvantage in promoting its national interests in the realm of cyberspace.”

Mytheos Holt recently graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Government and History, receiving high honors in Government. He served as a weekly columnist at the Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University's campus-wide newspaper, and founded the Wesleyan Witness political commentary magazine. He is originally from Big Sur, Calif., and currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Cybersecurity

Microsoft Executive Calls For Improved Information Sharing Between Governments and Companies

Brad Smith said information sharing is critical for preventative measures against cyberattacks.

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Microsoft Vice Chair Brad Smith

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2021—Microsoft Vice Chair Brad Smith called for improved information sharing between countries to prevent cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

While participating in a Washington Post Live discussion on September 20, Smith pointed toward certain sectors and aspects of society that should be protected from cyberwarfare. He specifically mentioned that a country’s digital supply chains, healthcare systems, and electoral processes should be considered off limits.

“I think the sobering fact of life is that unfortunately the world typically comes together to do what needs to be done only after it has experienced some kind [disaster],” he said.

“If we said we won’t harm civilians in a time of war, why should we for a moment, tolerate this kind of harm to civilians in what is supposed to be a time of peace?” Smith likened the SolarWinds attack to tampering with a blood supply to harm recipients.

A webinar in June hosted by the Stimson Center heard that a cybersecurity framework between countries is key to combatting cyberattacks.

Information sharing with private companies

In addition to reaffirming a commitment to not cause civilian harm, Smith also called for improving coordination and information sharing between private companies and stated that these efforts are enhanced by government leadership.

“I think any day when we’re sitting down and talking about how we can collaborate more closely among companies, that’s probably a good day.” Smith lauded efforts by the Biden Administration to facilitate information sharing between tech companies to prevent further attacks like the one SolarWinds suffered, “We are going to need a government that can work as a single well-coordinated team and the team is going to need to include participants in an appropriate way from the private sector as well. I’m hopeful, encouraged and I would dare say even optimistic.”

Last month, Comcast Cable’s chief product and information officer Noopur Davis said the private sector is falling behind on information sharing during cyberattacks, and that companies in the tech industry are reevaluating their strategies and how they share information to prevent such acts. Some have noted that companies are still not prioritizing cybersecurity.

Senator Angus King, I-Maine, has even called for new rules requiring companies to disclose when they’ve been breached in a hack.

Shortage of cybersecurity workforce

Smith noted, however, that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. He described a “substantial shortage” of cybersecurity professionals, which he stated is one of the reasons organizations are not able to move quickly enough to keep pace with bad actors and implement best practices.

“There is a real opportunity for us to work together for community colleges to do more [and] for businesses to do more to train their people,” he said.

Overall, Smith stated that things are moving in the right direction but emphasized that the international community—governments and otherwise—need to establish better methods of federating data that is secure from bad actors but accessible to the necessary parties.

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Cybersecurity

Private Sector Falling Behind on Information Sharing During Cyberattacks, Says Comcast Rep

Comcast’s Noopur Davis says cyber attackers share information better than the private sector.

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Noopur Davis, Chief Product and Information Officer at Comcast Cable.

ASPEN, Colorado, August 23 — In the wake of an influx of ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure and cyberattacks on private carriers, entities across the technology industry are revaluating their strategies and how they share information to prevent such acts.

T-Mobile announced on August 15 that as many as 50 million consumers had their private data compromised during a data breach. Days later, on August 17, as part of Technology Policy Institute’s 2021 Aspen Forum, Noopur Davis, Chief Product and Information Officer at Comcast Cable, sat down for a fireside chat to discuss what the industry was doing to address this event and events like it.

Join in Broadband Breakfast Live Online’s Discussion on “Cybersecurity: Reviewing the Biden Administration’s Executive Order,” on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at 12 Noon ET.

When Davis was asked how she felt about the current state of cybersecurity, she said it was okay, but that the telecom community at large would have to do more.

She referenced the mean time of comfort—that is, the average duration between the time that a service becomes connected to the internet and when it is targeted by bad actors. While in the early days of the internet cybersecurity experts could expect to have significant mean times of comfort, she stated that this is no longer the case.

“The second you connect [to the internet] you are attacked,” she said.

As soon as a successful breach is recognized, Davis explained that the target companies begin to revaluate their “TTP,” or tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Information sharing is crucial

Though one company may find a remedy to their breach, other companies may remain vulnerable. To combat this, Davis said that it is critical for companies to share information quickly with their counterparts, but she indicated that this is a race that the private sector is currently losing.

“[Attackers] share information better than [the private industry does].”

She went further, revealing that there is now a sophisticated market for malware as a service, where various platforms publish reviews for their products and services and even offer tech support to those struggling to get the most out of their purchases.

Growing market for hacking tools

She pointed to the Colonial Pipeline attack as an example where hackers did not even create the malware themselves—they just purchased it from a provider online. She explained that this marketplace has significantly lowered the barriers of entry and deskilled the activity for would be attackers, and that theoretically anyone could engage in such nefarious acts today.

Though Davis was in favor of collaboration between companies to address these attacks, she made it clear that this would not mean that responses and capabilities would become standardized, and that every company would maintain their own unique strategies to ensure that their services and data remain uncompromised.

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Cybersecurity

DOJ Official Supports Mandatory Breach Reporting

Proposed legislation would make it mandatory for companies to report cyberattacks.

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Richard Downing from the Senate judiciary committee last week

August 2, 2021—An official from the Department of Justice urged members of the Senate judiciary committee last week to proceed with legislation requiring companies to report ransomware attacks to federal agencies.

Richard Downing, deputy assistant attorney general of the criminal division within the department, told the committee studying cybersecurity during a hearing that such mandatory breach reporting legislation would aid in its defense against cyberattacks.

There is currently no federal law requiring such disclosures, but bipartisan Senate legislation co-sponsored by Senator Angus King, I-Maine, would change that. Titled Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, the bill was introduced last month.

This legislation would require all contractors, federal agencies, companies, and organizations critical to U.S national security to report all breaches of data to the Department of Homeland Securities’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within 24 hours.

The bill and discussions about it come in light of high-profile cyberattacks that have targeted software company SolarWinds and oil transport company Colonial Pipeline in the last several months. And the discussion isn’t expected to slowdown as more critical infrastructure is hooked up to the internet.

The Last week, the House energy committee approved a series of cyber bills that would improve telecom network security.  

Cyber threats becoming more bold

Downing noted that threat actors are becoming bolder and more sophisticated, and that the government must hasten efforts to thwart attacks and stay ahead of such malicious acts.

“Many actors now research their victims—identifying the victim’s net worth, the cost of a business interruption, and even the value of their cyber insurance policy—to extort as much money as possible,” Downing said during the hearing.

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