Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 2/15/2013 | 14 comments

Sara Peters
Uncle Sam wants YOU... to join a new voluntary critical infrastructure cybersecurity program. Will you join up?

This week, the White House expressed a new commitment to improving the nation's cyberdefense. President Obama laid down a new executive order, "Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity," and spoke about cyberdefense in his State of the Union address. (Click the link above or watch the video below, beginning at 00:43:03.)

One of the core principles of the executive order is to increase info security information sharing -- more sharing between the public and private sector and more sharing between various government agencies themselves.

The order also established a plan to, over the next 12 months, build an official "Cybersecurity Framework" for organizations that are considered part of the nation's critical infrastructure. "Critical infrastructure" in this case is defined as:

...systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.

This scheme for the government to create a cybersecurity framework has ruffled some IT professionals' feathers. Some of the main criticisms:

  • The government should not demand any detailed security data that could violate privacy or damage business.
  • The government lacks adequate infosecurity expertise.
  • This "framework" sounds an awful lot like a "regulation," and organizations already have too many regulatory compliance responsibilities.
  • A new framework will conflict with other industry standards and regulations.

These are all-important concerns, but all of them are addressed in the executive order. Most importantly, adoption of the Cybersecurity Framework and participation in the information sharing efforts will be voluntary.

In fact, the executive order indicates that the government will provide "incentives" to encourage the organizations that manage critical infrastructure to participate. There's no information yet on what those incentives might be, but the Secretaries of the Treasury and Commerce will be releasing more details about that over the summer.

According to the executive order, information submitted voluntarily will be "protected from disclosure to the fullest extent permitted by law."

Perhaps recognizing the fact that government agencies are indeed a bit behind the times when it comes to cybersecurity techniques, the executive order states an intention to "expand the use of programs that bring private sector subject-matter experts into Federal service on a temporary basis." You'll also be able to provide your professional two cents when a preliminary version of the framework is made available for public comment this autumn.

Surely the framework -- just like any other set of regulations, standards, or guidelines -- could simply be another way to complicate infosec and annoy CIOs and CIOs, but the government does seem aware and wary of that possibility. From the executive order:

The Cybersecurity Framework shall include a set of standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks. The Cybersecurity Framework shall incorporate voluntary consensus standards and industry best practices to the fullest extent possible...

The Cybersecurity Framework shall provide a prioritized, flexible, repeatable, performance-based, and cost-effective approach, including information security measures and controls, to help owners and operators of critical infrastructure identify, assess, and manage cyber risk...

To enable technical innovation and account for organizational differences, the Cybersecurity Framework will provide guidance that is technology neutral and that enables critical infrastructure sectors to benefit from a competitive market for products and services that meet the standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes developed to address cyber risks.

What do you think? Does the US government stand a chance of creating an effective, useful security framework? Will it fall into the same trap that so much technology-related legislation does -- being obsolete and out-of-date before the ink is dry? Will the defense of the nation's critical infrastructure actually improve?

The government is calling upon you, IT professionals -- will you answer the call?

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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batye   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   3/3/2013 10:06:53 PM
Re: A bit broad
interesting, but in reality we are at war... what ever we like it or not... and gov. have no choice as to play this card... but who knows ??? what is right way or wrong way to approach this threat....
kstaron   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/21/2013 3:31:12 PM
A bit broad
Interesting idea, in a little 1984 big brother kind of way. The idea of being able to cyberprotect all of the nations critical systems is a bit overarching. That could be anything from DoD prototypes to the local water treatment plant. Are the definitions of the information they want any less broad?
WaqasAltaf   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/21/2013 9:19:54 AM
Re: Information gathering exercises
@ Sara

Firstly US government should find out ways in which data can be collected without requesting it from the foreign business for e.g. by coordinating with bankers and shipping authorities through IRS. People don't like being bothered by authorities of countries where profit margin is already low which it is in the case of the US as there are already strict quality control requirements that add cost to the product being imported into the US.
Sara Peters   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/20/2013 3:02:37 PM
Re: Like the idea
@singlemud  It's not clear yet whether or not these "incentives" will be in the form of cash. We'll have to wait and see.
Sara Peters   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/20/2013 3:00:55 PM
Re: Information gathering exercises
@Waqas  Thanks for sharing this insight:  "Strengthening the national defense is a good thing but not to the extent that organizations drop their dealings with the US companies which can be harmful for the already struggling economy." Pablo Valerio has said similar things on E2 before. It is definitely a concern, but I'm not sure how to address it. Any ideas about how to strike the right balance?
sohaibmasood   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/19/2013 10:58:53 AM
Re: Like the idea
Yes, the funds will help the companies in spending more on research and improving their standards. 
sohaibmasood   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/19/2013 10:55:33 AM
Re: more guidelines
Pedro, I agree with you. Atleast the President is making an effort to make things better. I feel that today it is even more important to beef up security as we are seeing radical groups attack other countries websites and official communication channels. 
singlemud   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/18/2013 8:31:51 PM
Like the idea
There are lots of money poured into the society after 911 attack and many data sharing and security firms are relying on that. With that amount of money drying out, these new money will save these firms for sure
WaqasAltaf   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/17/2013 3:27:55 AM
Re: Million little pieces...
@ Sara and CMtucker

I agree too that problem is more organized than the solution. What needs to be done immediately to improve cybersecurity is to identify unregistered platforms that are currently transferring information within and outside the national space. Surely, such platforms exist as not everybody is pro-government in the US.
WaqasAltaf   Uncle Sam Wants Your InfoSec Insight   2/17/2013 3:22:11 AM
Information gathering exercises
Though I appreciate the initiative from the US's executive management to take the cyber security seriously but I would also like to highlight the concern that foreign organizations have when dealing with US counterparts because of the day by day increasing requests for information from them which has to be provided if those companies have to continue dealing with the US economy. An example of this information gathering exercises being conducted by the US government is the recently promulgated FATCA (foreign account tax compliance act), effective from 2014, which requires foreign financial institutions to enter into information sharing agreements with the IRS or face 30% withholding tax. Strengthening the national defense is a good thing but not to the extent that organizations drop their dealings with the US companies which can be harmful for the already struggling economy.
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