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Metrics and Automation Can Improve Federal Cybersecurity Measures

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Screenshot of Nextgov Staff Correspondent Mariam Baksh from the webinar

July 9, 2020 — Metrics are a new frontier for automating certain cybersecurity measurements, according to Mariam Baksh, a staff correspondent at Nextgov.

In a Thursday Nextgov webinar, moderated by Baksh, panelists discussed the benefits of utilizing automation to gather data for more informed metrics, in order to ultimately solve pressing cybersecurity issues in both the federal and private sector.

“It’s important to remember when we say ‘metrics,’ we just mean measurements,” said Brandon Valeriano, senior advisor of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

Automation and metrics are currently being utilized by the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program, a leading effort to reduce cyber risk and provide asset visibility to the federal government.

By distributing automated tools to federal agencies, their ability to monitor and manage the threat of cyber vulnerabilities is strengthened.

The goal of CDM is to improve the federal governments respective security posture, said program manager Kevin Cox.

“Agencies are not aware of their attack surface,” Cox said, referring to all of the places an advisory is able to exploit a network.

When the CDM program was utilized, researchers “found that agencies have 75 percent more assets than they were manually reported,” Cox said.

The objectives of the program are to reduce agencies’ threat surface, increase visibility into the federal cybersecurity posture and improve federal cybersecurity response capabilities.

Valeriano, who Baksh mentioned had more experience in the private sector than his fellow panelists, spoke of utilizing metrics and automation to solve an alternative problem.

“We’re generally collecting data on security risks for no real purpose of analysis,” Valeriano said. “We only know about what we’re already looking for.”

Valeriano called for utilizing metrics to develop a better situational hyper-awareness, so eventually attacks could be predicted and mitigated.

Other panelists reported that they are not doing the type of work that Valeriano described, revealing a division in development between segments of the private and public sector.

“Automation is the way to go,” said Vijay D’Souza, director of the information technology and cybersecurity team at the Government Accountability Office. “The more tools you have to handle the vast amounts of data we’re dealing with the better.”

However, automation may not catch major threats, such as attackers going for harder to exploit targets, D’Souza said.

To solve this, a “marriage of artificial intelligence and human intelligence is ideal,” he said.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Cybersecurity

Biden On Lookout for Cyberattacks with Russia Massing on Border of Ukraine

The president says that, in the past, Russia has taken covert military actions.

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Photo of President Joe Biden on Thursday

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the administration will be on the lookout for Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be edging closer to invading Ukrainian territory.

Biden warned that, in the past, Russia has launched aggressive computer attacks that, while perhaps falling short of overt military action, have been daunting cyber-offensives of “military” officials not wearing Russian uniforms.

The comments came at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting of Biden’s Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. Biden briefly addressed rising tensions surrounding Ukraine.

Many critics of Russia, including Biden, have said that they Putin will pounce.

During his remarks, Biden said Moscow would “pay a heavy price” should it move any Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Following his foreign policy comments, Biden turned his attention to the planned task force talks on implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed on November 15, 2022.

He turned to former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the administration’s unofficial “infrastructure czar,” to offer comments on the administration’s progress to press.

Biden specifically addressed the law’s implications for ongoing supply chain issues.

Since the back half of 2021, the world has faced historic shipping delays on a variety of commercial goods as global manufacturing systems continue struggling to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and workforce shortages exacerbated by it.

Specifically, the tech industry has faced chronic shortages of semiconductor chips, perhaps worse than most other commodities. The shortages have crippled many digital industry supply chains. products.

Biden said that with the infrastructure law investment in physical infrastructure, including additional highways to alleviate traffic on the nation’s roads, will allow goods to be transported faster through existing supply chains.

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Cybersecurity

Telework Here to Stay, But Devices Need Beefed Up Security

The future of teleworking will need upgraded security.

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Allen McNaughton, sales director at Infoblox

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Remote work is here to stay, but that means getting up to speed on securing websites is critical, said a director at an information technology security company Wednesday.

At a Business of Federal Technology event, which posed the question “is hybrid forever?,” Kiran Ahuja, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said “hybrid remote work and telework policies are clearly helping not only federal agencies, but literally every single office, company, and organization in this country.”

But while Allen McNaughton, sales director at security company Infoblox, agreed that telehealth is “here to stay, no doubt about it,” he also made clear that the reality of hybrid work is not effective without protected technology.

“When you have telework, when you have people that can work anywhere in the world, the world is now your attack surface,” says McNaughton. McNaughton noted that there is now a greater opportunity for hackers to install malware on unsecure devices.

The country has already been gripped by high-profile cyberattacks, including on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, and meat producer JBS USA.

Some of the attackers simply gained access because devices had simple default passwords, raising concern among security experts about how prepared people are for full-time remote work and school.

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Cybersecurity

Congress Must Avoid ‘Overly Prescriptive’ Incident Reporting To Avoid Missing Larger Cyberattacks

Too many reports could burden federal officials, said the executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation.

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Rep. Debbie Shultz
Rep. Debbie Schultz, D-Florida

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2022 — The executive director of an organization that pushes information technology reform in government testified Tuesday in front of the House Oversight committee that any incident reporting requirements that Congress is considering should not burden officials so much that they end up missing more serious breaches of cybersecurity.

Ross Nodurft of the Alliance for Digital Innovation told lawmakers studying the reform of the Federal Information Security Management Act, a 2002 law which implements an information security and protection program, that the amended legislation should consider keeping Congress abreast of incidents, but should be mindful of how it defines a security problem.

“As Congress considers defining major incidents or codifying vulnerability response policies, any legislation should be mindful of the dynamic nature of responding to cybersecurity challenges facing government networks,” Nodurft said. “If Congress is overly prescriptive in its definition of an incident, it runs the risk of receiving so many notifications that the incidents which are truly severe are missed or effectively drowned out due to thee frequency of reporting,” he said in prepared remarks.

The comments come on the heels of a year that included major cybersecurity attacks, including the attacks on software company SolarWinds, oil transport company Colonial Pipeline, which prompted a Senate hearing on the matter. The House Oversight committee released details of its investigation into some of the breaches in November.

The comments also come after lawmakers proposed new reporting requirements on companies. Those proposed laws would make it mandatory that small and large companies report incidents to the government so they can best prepare a response to protect Americans.

In July, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Cyber Incident Notification Act of 2021, which requires federal and private sector cybersecurity intrusions to be reported to the government within 24 hours.

Cyber incident reporting was recently left out of a Senate bipartisan version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Lead cybersecurity officials in government have been calling for mandatory breach reporting to government. Brandon Wales, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the same Oversight committee in November that Congress should force companies to share that kind of information. Last summer, a Department of Justice official said he supports mandatory breach reporting.

In October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the department intends to create a new cyber bureau to help tackle the growing challenge of cyber warfare.

Agency roles should be clarified

Rep. Debbie Schultz, D-Florida, talked about the varied organizations and institutions in her state that have been affected by cyberattacks and threats, including the Miami-based software company Kaseya, which experienced a major ransomware attack.

Schultz stated that there are two entities that are critical to federal cybersecurity: the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Office of the National Cyber Director.

Grant Schneider, senior director of cybersecurity services, Venable, said that the Office of the National Cyber Director acts as a conductor in the framework of FISMA. These organizations work with other organizations, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, and the Office of Management and Budget.

With so many organizations, Nodurft explained how important it is for the roles within these organizations to be defined. He talked about how important it is for agencies to know where to turn to report cyberattacks. In part with this, he continued, agencies who “are proactively trying to mitigate their cyber risks” need clear reporting channels and clear areas of jurisdiction to go to for various issues.

According to Nodurft, these defined roles would “make it much easier for [agencies] to work together, to build a broader defensive structure.”

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