Analysis: Cybersecurity puzzle is a tough one to solve

Experts agree a multidimensional approach to cybersecurity is necessary, but what does that really mean?

Despite increased efforts to implement better cybersecurity, federal agencies continue to succumb to cyber attacks. Could more – or updated – policies stem the tide of these potentially devastating attacks?

The topic gained renewed prominenece in late October when the Energy Department’s inspector general noted in an audit that cyber attacks targeting federal agencies' systems and websites increased nearly 40 percent in 2010. DOE itself had failed to adequately protect its information systems from the cyber attacks that constantly probed the networks – this after spending “significant resources” on cybersecurity measures, according to the report, released Oct. 20.

It is no surprise that cybersecurity has become an increasingly urgent issue for federal agencies, with hackers and nation-states infiltrating the systems to extract sensitive information and data.

The Defense Department, in particular, has been a prime target for hackers: In June 2010, U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith B. Alexander said DOD’s systems were probed more than 6 million times a day.

There are policies and measures already in place to prevent these attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which provides cybersecurity standards and guidelines to the federal government, has a security control catalog with 18 safeguards and countermeasures that each agency is required to implement.


The approach that’s currently been taken is sort of the equivalent of telling employees, ‘when you come to work, don’t open any square blue boxes.’ But then someone sends in square red boxes, and they all get taken." --  Eugene Spafford.


Many people think a policy is  “just paperwork, but policies and procedures are critical for setting the tone and establishing the organization’s commitment to doing the right thing with regards to due diligence in the area of cybersecurity,” said Ron Ross, fellow and project leader of the Federal Information Security Management Act Implementation Project at NIST.

The policies can address many different areas, and they can be challenging. But if the policy is clear and follows the basic principles that are articulated in the NIST standards and guidelines – and if it’s implemented properly -- it should result in better cybersecurity for the organization, Ross said.

No policy, however, will do any good if individuals fail to recognize their part in keeping information and systems secure.

“A policy for education, training and awareness is very critical today because a vast majority of the attacks come through the web and email,” Ross said. “One of the principal areas we have to focus on is making sure that the folks who work within the federal agencies and contractors understand they play a very important role in the protection of these systems.”

Although technology continues to play a significant part of cybersecurity, “the days we thought technology could be the solution to all evils and problems are gone,” said Amry Junaideen, a principal at Deloitte & Touche and cybersecurity leader for the firm’s federal practice.

Most data breaches in the past have happened not because technology failed but because of a people aspect, which makes training and awareness training ever so important, he said. However, if any aspect -- such as governance, policy, process or people -- are missing, “you’re going to fail in terms of mitigating your risk,” Junaideen warned.

Full security comes from having “the right technology in the right places” coupled with an educated, well-trained workforce, he said.
“You [could] have the perfect technology and someone who’s not properly educated basically opens the backdoor and posts sensitive information on the Internet [or] on a file share that gets compromised. All of a sudden, your human being becomes the weakest link,” he said.

Eugene Spafford, a professor at Purdue University and founder and executive director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, said the real problem is the belief that flawed systems can be secured retroactively, either by add-ons or by compelling users to act in ways they are not used to.

Even if agencies have policies to provide training, they are often too specific or too ambiguous, he said. For example, take the “don’t open any suspicious e-mails” approach. What exactly constitutes a suspicious e-mail message? Many of the social engineering attacks occurring today are designed to not look suspicious, Spafford said.

“The approach that’s currently been taken is sort of the equivalent of telling employees, ‘when you come to work, don’t open any square blue boxes.’ But then someone sends in square red boxes, and they all get taken,” he said.

The federal government’s efforts to transition to cloud-based services and technologies could also mean more security problems, he suggested. Following trends or big pushes to save money often mean that security issues fall lower on the priority ladder.

“That’s partly why we have vulnerable systems today, because the idea was, ‘we’ll buy whatever is the cheapest thing on the market’ to save money rather than actually thinking through building a strong, secure infrastructure,” Spafford said.

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.