Government Agencies Must Work With the Private Sector to Bolster Infrastructure Security

Securing data is never easy. It often requires the infusion of outside expertise to put together an effective information security strategy. Data stored on government servers is especially valuable to both individual fraudsters and nation-state actors, and government agencies have been under pressure to enhance their infrastructure security capabilities and take additional measures to protect sensitive records.

A recent audit of the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suggested that many agencies, including the OPM, still have a long way to go. To get their security programs off the ground, government organizations must build trust with the private sector and tap companies in the security industry to guide their efforts.

Auditing National Infrastructure Security

The OPM audit found that while the agency had improved its overall data protection program, a moratorium implemented during fiscal year 2015 on all security assessment and authorization activities effectively weakened its security posture. The following year, the OPM authorized a sprint that was designed to bring all systems into compliance. The purpose of the most recent audit was to evaluate the status of that effort.

Two-thirds of the wide area network (WAN) and local area network (LAN) security controls the inspection team tested were found to be either not satisfied or only partially satisfied. The auditors opined that in this state, the likelihood of being able to identify vulnerabilities is significantly reduced.

Even more critical is the absence of a standard LAN/WAN system security plan (SSP). In the auditor’s view, the SSP completeness is foundational. Without it, security teams lack inventory controls and knowledge of what is present within the network.

An Executive Order

Along with the audit, the White House issued its “Presidential Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure,” which gave each agency and department head 90 days to produce a risk management report to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The report must document “the risk mitigation and acceptance choices made by each agency head,” including strategic, operational and budgetary considerations as well as unmitigated vulnerabilities.

These agencies and departments are expected to use the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.” To that end, the NIST issued an implementation guide to help organizations comply with the executive order.

The Private Sector’s Perspective

As government agencies such as the OPM grapple with infrastructure security issues, cybersecurity experts have called for government organizations to think about these challenges from the private sector’s point of view. According to FCW, government agencies should focus on building trust with the security industry and, in turn, rely on the industry to evolve cybersecurity stratagems.

Additionally, the advisory board to the NIST challenged the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee’s approved legislation, which tasked the NIST with conducting cybersecurity audits of government agencies and departments. While the organization has always been associated with the creation of standards and guidance, the advisory board opined that the responsibility shift would “complicate its current mission as a neutral adviser.”

Meanwhile, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO)’s “2016 Report to the President” revealed that the cost to maintain classification management systems in 2016 was approximately $16.89 billion. The report also found that most government organizations had “established uniform procedures to ensure that automated information systems, including networks and telecommunications systems that store classified information, prevent access by unauthorized persons, ensure the integrity of the information and, to the maximum extent practicable, use common information technology standards and protocols.”

Waiting For an Invitation

U.S. government organizations certainly have their work cut out for them. The president’s executive order should make a significant dent in the initiative to bolster security across all agencies, but the government can’t do it alone. Private entities are ready and able to guide the government’s efforts to establish a plan to secure the nation’s infrastructure, but they appear to be waiting for an invitation.

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Christopher Burgess

CEO at Prevendra

Christopher Burgess is the CEO of Prevendra, a security, privacy and intelligence company. He is also an author, speaker and advocate for effective security strategies, be they for your company, home or family. Christopher co-authored "Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost: Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century" (Syngress, March 2008) and authored the e-book, "Senior Online Safety" (Prevendra, March 2014) and is the voice behind the website, "Senior Online Safety." Prior to the founding of Prevendra, Christopher held a variety of private and public sector positions, which included, chief operating office and chief security officer of a big data analytic company, Atigeo; Senior Security Advisor to the CSO of Cisco, a Fortune 100, and 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher resides in Woodinville, WA with his family, two dogs and two horses.