Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 3/13/2014 | 7 comments

Sara Peters
The US government's cybersecurity efforts are getting "squishy." And this is a good thing.

This week Fordham University hosted a panel discussion to increase awareness of and review the progress of the President's Critical Infrastructure Framework. Panelists included Samara Moore, director for cybersecurity critical infrastructure protection for the White House National Security Staff; Jenny Menna, director of stakeholder engagement and cyber infrastructure resilience for the Department of Homeland Security; and Jon Boyens, senior advisor of information security for NIST.

Unlike many of the government's efforts in the past, this framework is not a checklist. Moore said very clearly that they are not aimed at 100% security, but rather on managing risk. They are focused on outcomes, not how to achieve outcomes. Also, the framework is not a recipe for new compliance woes.

"The aim is not to expand regulation," said Moore. The goal is to harmonize with existing regulations, issued by both government and private entities, instead of creating new ones.

Use of the framework is also largely voluntary. While the CISOs of the nation's critical infrastructure -- and the ecosystem of organizations that support the critical infrastructure -- are encouraged to share threat intelligence with the federal security agencies, it is not a quid pro quo system. You can receive some of the government agencies' tactical threat intelligence even if you don't tell them a thing.

So the government is behaving more like a good neighbor than a taskmaster or a bean-counter. That's nice if you're a CISO who wants to spend your security budget on, you know, security, as opposed to arduous compliance efforts. However, it does make it harder to measure success.

The panelists explained that developing an effective way of measuring success is an ongoing effort, but in the meantime they're assessing the framework on soft grounds. Is the market beginning to make procurement decisions based upon a company's adherence to recommendations made in the framework? Are more organizations sharing threat information with the government or with one another?

Moore acknowledges that this is "squishy," but she stressed that they want only meaningful measurements, not another dashboard of numbers for the sake of numbers.

Personally I find this approach refreshing. What do you think? Without teeth or numbers will this effort be purely academic? Have you begun to share threat intelligence with your partners or the government? Let us know in the comments below.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Anand   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/27/2014 7:48:40 AM
Re : Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'
@ zerox203, it is fair to be skeptical about government but it may not always be. Government has actually thrown the gauntlet to the businesses to take it upon themselves to adhere to the recommendations. You are right in saying that this approach has the potential of going either way but it will at least expose those who are not serious.
Anand   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/25/2014 7:41:07 AM
Re : Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'
I feel a little sympathetic towards government here. Government seems to be caught in cross fire. When they force the recommendations on businesses with the clout of authority, they are criticized for that. Now, in this case, they have not made it mandatory and people are criticizing them for being squishy. Anyway I personally like this approach of making recommendations and let the industry decide for itself.
Henrisha   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/24/2014 5:17:36 AM
Re: The problem with 'squishy'
I agree with you, Kstaron. I get that there is a need to be optimistic, but like you said, you can only go so far with optimism. You also have to have concrete plans and courses of action to try and turn those goals into a reality. So far, I am not seeimg them here.
Henrisha   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/24/2014 5:16:41 AM
Re: Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'
Just when you thought that big data had already boomed.. Then you hear news like this and you realize that it is still on the rise. It's understandable, considering how there is so much that can be gleaned from big data. The next step would be to "smarten" up the entire process.
kstaron   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/20/2014 4:36:08 PM
The problem with 'squishy'
I'm all for rah rah speeches and guidelines to a better tomorrow, but focusing on outcomes without a means to get there is nothing more than wishes in a basket. Worse, when they decide everything is too squishy and start delivering actual checklists, if you delivered your outcome the wrong way you could be out serious money and effort.
MDMConsult   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/15/2014 4:29:01 PM
Re: Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'
Gartner, predicts that big data spend will double in the three years between now and 2015. In recent years, Boeing has made substantial investments in cybersecurity R&D and acquisitions, connecting capabilities from across the organization.
zerox203   Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'   3/13/2014 1:55:27 PM
Re: Government Cybersecurity Initiatives Are 'Squishy'
Announcements like this come out of the government every day, and if you don't follow them religiously, they can be easy to miss. It's actually a bit of a strange dichotomy that you see in fields other than IT as well - even when the government does try to make strides in helping industries like ours, and even when the information contained in releases like this is very pertinent to any professional worth his salt, the flow of information doesn't always 'click'. People are often out of the loop, and the government's efforts flounder only to get ridiculed later.

In any case, I appreciate having a place where I can come and see a recap of something like this that I otherwise would have missed. This approach seems like it could go either way, but to that end, I appreciate the panelists not billing it as 'the next big thing'. Some companies may get on board, but many probably will not - in fact, most will probably not even notice it's happening. It's smart of them to take the approach of putting it out there, not investing too much into it, and letting anything they reap from it act as a free benefit. I'd like to see more efforts along those lines.


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