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Cybersecurity

Cyber Officials Reiterate Need for Private-Public Sector Cyber Threat Information Sharing

Calls are growing louder for mandatory breach reporting for cybersecurity incidents.

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Brandon Wales, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Cybersecurity officials from the federal government told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Tuesday that Congress needs to press forward on legislation that would force companies to share information on cyber attacks with the federal government.

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.

On Tuesday, the oversight and reform committee, which is studying how the government can crack down on ransomware, heard from three cyber security witnesses that a priority of Congress should be to pass such legislation to force that information sharing so the government is better prepared to respond, and prevent, attacks.

“Passing cyber threat notification legislation is a top priority,” said Brandon Wales, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “We need the information because that enables CISA and the FBI to both engage with that victim, offer our assistance, understand what’s happening on their networks, and protect other victims as well as all the threat response and going after the actor and following the money.”

The comments and the calls for legislation come against the backdrop of high-profile cyberattacks, including against oil transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds, which prompted a Senate hearing on the matter. Recently, investment app Robinhood suffered its own data breach.

The attacks also raise even more alarm as the pandemic has made remote work more commonplace.

Wales noted that there have been improvements in terms of public-private partnerships to better deal with cyberattacks, including the launch of the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, which will lead development of cyber defense plans and executive plans in coordination with the federal, state, local and tribal governments, as well as the private sector.

Those companies Wales specified were those that have the most “visibility” on these attacks, including major cloud companies, internet service providers and cyber security firms.

“As we work together to spot threat activity, we are able to provide more protection than anyone can do individually,” Wales said.

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

Other legislation before Congress

The signing into law Monday of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes cybersecurity grants to state and local governments, which Wales said he is hopeful will help

The House recently passed the Small Business Administration Cyber Awareness Act, which would require only small businesses of their cybersecurity capabilities and notify Congress about cyber breaches.

Before that, Senator Angus King, I-Maine, called for the crafting of legislation that would require all companies to report cyber breaches to the federal government, which backed by a Department of Justice official in further testimony before the Senate judiciary committee earlier this year.

Assistant Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet

Cybersecurity

House Oversight Reveals Details of Investigation into Colonial Pipeline, Other Company Hacks

The committee released a memo stating that “small lapses” led to many prominent cyberattacks this year.

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Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – A House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation concluded in a staff memo that “small lapses” in cyber security led to hacks of Colonial Pipeline, meat producer JBS USA, and insurance group CNA Financial Corporation that occurred earlier this year.

Additionally, in Tuesday’s memo, the committee stated that the companies’ lack of “clear points of contact with the federal government” hampered response efforts to the attacks and that the companies faced a “huge” amount of pressure to pay hackers. Cyber security officials on Tuesday asked Congress to push legislation that would force companies to notify the government about cyber breaches.

The CNA hack occurred after an employee accepted a fake browser update and hackers gained access to JBS through an old account with a weak password that had not been deactivated. Colonial Pipeline was hacked as a result of just one stolen password linked to a profile, leading to gas shortages in several states.

Employees at JBS and Colonial Pipeline may have been operating on Internet of Things devices, which often only make use of mass-produced factory password settings due to limited processing power. This makes such devices extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks.

“Even large organizations with seemingly robust security systems fell victim to simple initial attacks, highlighting the need to increase security education and take other security measures prior to an attack,” reads Oversight’s memo.

Security issues for schools and libraries

Experts say that similar issues with IoT and password security are increasingly threatening cybersecurity in schools and libraries as well. During a School, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition event Wednesday, leaders in education emphasized data that shows attacks on the educational sector to continue increasing in frequency from a rate that already ranks second among all professional sectors.

Amy McLaughlin, executive director of technical and solutions architecture for Oregon State University, suggested during the event that schools and libraries expand their security beyond basic firewall that is paid for by E-rate funding and change default passwords when possible, avoiding using an administrator login, patch systems, as well as use anti-malware software on all devices.

Similarly, Bob Turner, field chief information security officer for higher education at Fortinet, stated that his organization recommends schools use multi-factor authentication.

The recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act specifically allocates funding to be used for the implementation of improved cybersecurity practices in institutions including libraries, cyber security officials said Tuesday.

National security concerns

In June, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, told CNA, JBS USA and Colonial Pipeline via letters that she was “extremely concerned that the decision to pay international criminal actors sets a dangerous precedent that will put an even bigger target on the back of critical infrastructure going forward.”

During an Oversight and Reform panel Tuesday, committee members questioned witnesses on the efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to push back on recent ransomware attacks by Russian-based cybercriminals.

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Cybersecurity

A Unified Framework for Security of the Software Supply Chain Can Prevent Disruptions, Event Hears

Discussion has emerged about the pandemic’s impact on the physical supply, but software is important, too.

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Tom Quillin of Intel

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2021 – The conversation on the security of the global supply chain should include the integrity of the software used to drive those products to market, and that will require leaders to align incentives to minimize risks of disruptions, an event heard Friday.

The supply chain is normally associated with the physical aspects of bringing products to consumers, including the facility, employees and management.

But panelists at an event held by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security Friday said there needs to be a security framework for the digital software supply chain as well.

Tom Quillin, who leads security and trust policy at Intel, said he supports a proposal by Google for a digital software supply chain security framework as a model for increasing the cohesiveness of the chain. Google’s proposal addresses risks to software systems that threaten the chain’s integrity and formalizes the criteria for its security, Quillin said.

Supply chain resiliency is critical to the Joe Biden Administration’s Build Back Better agenda. Aimed in part on improving U.S. economic competitiveness, structural weakness in the supply chain threatens national security, experts say.

The pandemic has wrought havoc on the global supply chain, which has seen shortages in things including routers, chips, and materials for fiber builds.

Aligning incentives to produce greater innovation

When asked about what the U.S. can do to promote wider adoption of integrity-boosting supply chain practices, Quillin said aligning incentives across the supply chain will help clarify the most important areas for future research and development. “Ensuring schedules and cost targets are met can lead to tradeoffs between security and trust,” Quillin said.

He said he thinks the U.S. should have a stronger focus on building incentives to ensuring security and trustworthiness amongst the supply chain. “With improved trust comes increased value to the consumer,” he said. “There are additional costs associated with transparency efforts, but the value added to the customer can cover the cost of added transparency.” Quillin believes that as the benefit of these solutions get built out, they become easier to implement and maintain over time.

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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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