OPM: CDM will offer baseline security

The continuous diagnostics and mitigation program will give agencies a much-needed standard for reporting vulnerabilities.

Shutterstock image (by GlebStock): hacker with graphic user interface.

The latest post mortem of the Office of Personnel Management data breach comes from OPM itself, and involves one of the government’s most touted cybersecurity programs: continuous diagnostics and mitigation.

When all of the security tools enabled by the CDM program are in place, “the government can really have a point in which we can say, yes, we have a firm understanding … everybody’s now on the same page, reporting the exact same thing. We can look at what vulnerabilities exist,” Jeff Wagner, OPM’s director of security operations, told reporters Aug. 19 after his appearance at an FCW-sponsored conference in Washington, D.C.

The CDM program, which is gradually being rolled out, offers a system of dashboards that give network managers a clearer view of vulnerabilities. But CDM’s backers say the program is not a panacea for thwarting big breaches of federal networks, but rather a helpful tool for discovering them.

When asked by FCW if, had all CDM security tools been in place, OPM would have been able to prevent the set of breaches that exposed the information of millions of current and former federal employees, Wagner noted that “access control” – a loss of credentials via a contractor – was a key to the attack. Once all of the CDM tools have been deployed, he said, government officials can outline additional measures to address access control. Security controls laid out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Federal Information Security Management Act, Wagner added, “haven’t really changed a whole lot to encompass … years of change in technology.”

The CDM program, whose acquisition vehicle has a $6 billion ceiling, is divided into three phases. The first gives agencies tools to detect what devices are on their networks. The second phase is focusing on better identifying who is on those networks, with security products for identity management and network boundary protection in the offing. The third phase will delve further into boundary protection and tackle incident response.

The catastrophic breach of OPM, for which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has named China as the leading suspect, triggered a maelstrom of outrage on Capitol Hill, including questions of what more tools federal IT managers need to combat unrelenting threats. Jim Quinn, lead system engineer for CDM at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters that officials are considering accelerating the program’s timeline, potentially issuing task orders for Phase 3 next year. Quinn cautioned, however, that it would be unwise to rush deployment and that officials were weighing how best to balance speed and quality control.

For his part, Wagner praised officials at DHS and the General Services Administration for trying to speed up CDM deployment while saying the program can only go so fast. “Congress and everybody like to say: ‘Didn’t you do more?’… How much more can I do?” he said. “It’s one of those things in which, how fast can I go that doesn’t get me an IG [inspector general] flash audit?”

In a related initiative to bolster OPM’s cybersecurity, Wagner said he is in the process of hiring five experts whose job it will be to hunt for risky behavior, from sophisticated threats to sloppy cyber hygiene. One slot is filled, with four to go, Wagner said, adding that he is considering a mix of private-sector and government candidates.

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