Federal Cybersecurity Egg Roll Event Continues (DHS)

If you remember my posts, “Cybersecurity Sprint or Multi-Year Egg Roll?” from last June (2015), and Fed Security Sprint – Ans: Multi-Year Egg Roll (Nov. 2015), there is further confirmation of the projected duration of the egg roll from the GAO.

The GAO report, DHS Needs to Enhance Capabilities, Improve Planning, and Support Greater Adoption of Its National Cybersecurity Protection System

The executive summary prepares the reader for 61 pages of grim reading:

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS) is partially, but not fully, meeting its stated system objectives:

  • Intrusion detection: NCPS provides DHS with a limited ability to detect potentially malicious activity entering and exiting computer networks at federal agencies. Specifically, NCPS compares network traffic to known patterns of malicious data, or “signatures,” but does not detect deviations from predefined baselines of normal network behavior. In addition, NCPS does not monitor several types of network traffic and its “signatures” do not address threats that exploit many common security vulnerabilities and thus may be less effective.
  • Intrusion prevention: The capability of NCPS to prevent intrusions (e.g., blocking an e-mail determined to be malicious) is limited to the types of network traffic that it monitors. For example, the intrusion prevention function monitors and blocks e-mail. However, it does not address malicious content within web traffic, although DHS plans to deliver this capability in 2016.
  • Analytics: NCPS supports a variety of data analytical tools, including a centralized platform for aggregating data and a capability for analyzing the characteristics of malicious code. In addition, DHS has further enhancements to this capability planned through 2018.
  • Information sharing: DHS has yet to develop most of the planned functionality for NCPS’s information-sharing capability, and requirements were only recently approved. Moreover, agencies and DHS did not always agree about whether notifications of potentially malicious activity had been sent or received, and agencies had mixed views about the usefulness of these notifications. Further, DHS did not always solicit—and agencies did not always provide—feedback on them.

In addition, while DHS has developed metrics for measuring the performance of NCPS, they do not gauge the quality, accuracy, or effectiveness of the system’s intrusion detection and prevention capabilities. As a result, DHS is unable to describe the value provided by NCPS.

Regarding future stages of the system, DHS has identified needs for selected capabilities. However, it had not defined requirements for two capabilities: to detect (1) malware on customer agency internal networks or (2) threats entering and exiting cloud service providers. DHS also has not considered specific vulnerability information for agency information systems in making risk-based decisions about future intrusion prevention capabilities.

Federal agencies have adopted NCPS to varying degrees. The 23 agencies required to implement the intrusion detection capabilities had routed some traffic to NCPS intrusion detection sensors. However, only 5 of the 23 agencies were receiving intrusion prevention services, but DHS was working to overcome policy and implementation challenges. Further, agencies have not taken all the technical steps needed to implement the system, such as ensuring that all network traffic is being routed through NCPS sensors. This occurred in part because DHS has not provided network routing guidance to agencies. As a result, DHS has limited assurance regarding the effectiveness of the system.

The brightest part of the report is that DHS “concurred with GAO’s recommendations.

That’s a far cry from the state of total denial at the Office of Personnel Management last year. DHS is acknowledging its problems. Whether than translates into fixing those problems remains to be seen.

(Do you know the fate of the management incompetents at OPM? Just curious who is being inflicted with their incompetence now.)

I truly hate to say anything nice about the DHS but one must give the devil his due.

Unfortunately for the DHS, elected leaders don’t understand that need, desire, importance, are all non-factors in technical success. You may not like mendelian genetics, but as Stalin discovered, you pursue other models at your own risk.

The same is true for cybersecurity.

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