Texas setting up security office

Texas' Statewide Information Technology Security Assessment

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Texas is poised to become the first state government to establish an information technology security office to apply policies and monitor the Internet architecture.

The move is designed to bolster cybersecurity among the state's 200 or so agencies and build public trust as more government services move online.

The state legislature approved $600,000 in its general appropriations bill to fund the office for the next two years. It is likely to be approved by Gov. Rick Perry, who has until June 17 to sign it into law, said Mel Mireles, statewide IT planning manager in the Department of Information Resources (www.dir.state.tx.us). Mireles would head the new office.

The idea of a central security office is an outgrowth of a recently released Sprint study that analyzed statewide Internet security policies and processes. Sprint, a global communications company, also conducted "vulnerability assessments" in which it tried to breach the government's IT security.

"We had an idea that security probably wasn't as robust in the state as we move services online. What was evident is that either agencies have policies that are not being enforced, are not being followed for the most part, or there were no policies," Mireles said.

"When you couple that with the lack of perimeter security — infrastructure, hardware, software — you get a kind of a double whammy here," he said, "because if I've got the configuration that needs to happen at my infrastructure level and...those policies aren't followed, [then] I kind of negate that infrastructure."

The Texas DIR has somewhat played that security role over the past decade, Mireles said, but a dedicated office would be more proactive in communicating, monitoring and evaluating policies, standards and procedures to its agencies. The office also would continue testing the state's Internet defenses and try to find vulnerable points. Additional security services would be outsourced, he said.

Bob Robinson, Sprint's director of security practice, said Texas may be the first of several other states looking at an enterprise model for security. New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Virginia apparently are also interested.

"For the state to take this approach is something that is very remarkable, and it shows a forward-looking mature outlook on security on a state level," Robinson said. "It gives people in the state this feeling that their information and their politics are being monitored and cared for, so it does give a very positive look for the state."

If approved, Texas' security office will open Sept. 1, the start of the state's fiscal year.

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