NASA cyber program bears fruit

NASA has demonstrated that using a scanning and remediation program can turn the tide against hackers

NASA has demonstrated that using a scanning and remediation program can turn the tide against hackers, according to a recent report.

The SANS Institute released its NASA case study to coincide with the Oct. 2 release of the top 20 security vulnerabilities in the Unix and Microsoft Corp. Windows environments.

In fact, the idea for the top 20 list came from NASA's efforts to tame the cyber beast, according to Alan Paller, research director at the institute. Although the space agency outsources its more than 80,000 desktop computers, which are spread among several facilities, it maintains responsibility for their security.

In 1999, NASA identified the 50 most serious flaws plaguing its computers in response to an increasing number of attacks. Then using available funds, the agency bought and deployed a standard suite of scanning tools agencywide. Beginning in fiscal 2000, all network-connected computers were tested for the top 50 flaws and system owners were challenged to fix any problems.

"We had to market this within NASA," said Dave Nelson, a senior official in the chief information officer's office. "As the network has become more important, it's not possible for individual organizations to work in isolation."

To bring the entire agency on board, then-CIO Lee Holcomb set a target: Each center would decrease the ratio of vulnerabilities-to-computers from 1-to-1 to 1-to-4. "It got into a spirit of competition," Nelson said.

That spirit was the key, because people were given the opportunity to succeed, Paller said. "They never used it as a 'gotcha.' They gave them at least a full quarter to fix" a problem.

NASA tracks progress quarterly and, in fiscal 2002, began updating the list just as regularly. In addition to scanning for security problems, the agency relies on intrusion detection and other measures.

"We've seen that this general approach works," Nelson said. "The cost is acceptable. Other agencies are picking it up."

NASA spends $2 million to $3 million a year on the program, or about $30 per computer annually.

"The need for large-scale contracting is nonexistent," Paller said. "This was less than 3 percent of their security budget, and all of us can find 3 percent."

The cost is almost entirely in labor, so looking ahead, NASA wants to move to better management tools and use the General Services Administration's patching service when it becomes available, Nelson said. The agency is also trying to incorporate artificial intelligence that better identifies intrusion patterns.

It has already reduced the number of system compromises and the ratio of vulnerabilities-to-computers to about 1-to-10, Nelson said. Now "we can jump on an emergency very quickly," he said.

Despite making progress, NASA must stay up-to-date on the latest vulnerabilities, according to Bill Wall, chief security engineer with Harris Corp.'s STAT network security group.

"In my mind [updating the list] bi-weekly is the best schedule," said Wall, who worked as chief of computer security at the agency's Ames Research Center in California for six years. "NASA's always a likely target."

Experts responded similarly to the top 20 list, calling it a good place for organizations to start as part of a larger cybersecurity strategy.

The institute announced the list with the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. The group plans to offer free weekly or monthly updates to the list.

NEXT STORY: Letter to the editor

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.