Energy CIO outlines security plans

Tom Pyke, chief information officer at the Energy Department, launched a security revitalization program there when he took the position in November 2005. Today that program is making strides in locking intruders out of the department's systems, he told an audience at a luncheon hosted by Input.

DOE has been in the spotlight recently because of a successful attack in which cyberthieves stole personal data on about 1,500 contract and agency employees. That incident happened in July 2005, Pyke said, but it was not reported to agency leaders until recently. The revitalization project was not connected to that theft, he added.

The thieves used an old-fashioned "social engineering" attack, sending an e-mail message with malicious code in an attachment. An employee clicked on the attachment, executing software that set up a "back door" for the thieves to access the network of the National Nuclear Security Agency, a semi-autonomous organization within DOE.

DOE includes a network of national laboratories, and about 60 percent of the computer systems within the department are connected to national security, which calls for extra protection, he said.

"We have a lot of the right policies and we have very bright people," Pyke said. "It's just a matter of [my] helping refocus priorities."

DOE seems to be a favorite target of would-be hackers, with several hundred thousand attempted attacks a day, he said. Most of those, however, are routine and harmless, and fewer than 100 so far this year have been deemed "incidents" needing a response.

The revitalization effort includes the increased use of encryption software, regular analysis of every aspect of cybersecurity throughout the department and the use of "red teams," employees who try to defeat the defenses to identify weaknesses, he said.

Despite best efforts, however, agency leaders and the public need to understand "there's no such thing as perfect cyberdefense," Pyke said. "We have made systems so complex that there will be vulnerabilities, and sometimes those vulnerabilities will be exploited before we can get protection in place."

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