OMB directs agencies to close off most Internet links

Steps to reduce risks

As agencies prepare to reduce the number of their Internet connections, they must review their inventory of gateways and perform other technical tasks, said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget’s administrator for e-government and information technology.

Along with the new OMB mandate, agencies must pay close attention to other network-related federal initiatives, such as the General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contract, the mandate to use IPv6 on backbone networks, and OMB’s IT Infrastructure Line of Business, Evans said.

“We need to ensure the agencies receive benefits from the service and have the ability to continue to conduct their routine operations in a secure and efficient manner when providing services to the citizens,” she added.

— Jason Miller

The Office of Management and Budget's Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative likely is to be the last publicized program in the Bush administration's stepped-up focus on cybersecurity, some experts say. More importantly, the new initiative requires agencies to implement real-time gateway monitoring, which has been a deficit in federal network protection.

The TIC initiative mandates that officials develop plans for limiting the number of Internet connections into their departments and agencies. OMB officials want to reduce the number of gateways from the more than 1,000 to about 50, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology.

The initiative also asks chief information officers to develop a plan of action and milestones for participating in the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team's Einstein initiative. The program offers agencies real-time gateway monitoring capabilities and helps them react more quickly to security incidents. About 13 agencies voluntarily participate in the Einstein program.

"The reduction of access points to trusted Internet connections will improve our situational awareness and allow us to address potential threats in an expedited and efficient manner," Evans said. "While we optimize and improve our security, it is also our goal to minimize overall operating costs for services through economies of scale."

The TIC initiative is the third major step that White House officials have taken in the past month to secure federal networks. In addition to the connections initiative, administration officials submitted a $154 million request to Congress for cybersecurity funding at DHS and the Justice Department.

White House officials also named a new senior director of cybersecurity.

TIC "is an essential step because the Federal Information Security Management Act-based defenses have failed to stop the attackers from getting inside agencies," said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. "Once they are inside, only very sophisticated monitoring can hope to find the infections."

The connections program's purpose is to reduce the number of Internet access points governmentwide and standardize security for the connections that remain.

"What OMB is trying to do is limit the number of hops or transmissions between points," said Frank Dzubeck, president at Communications Network Architects. "The proliferation of the Internet has caused this to grow. It is the same theory as collapsing data centers to a more confined location for security and other reasons."

Some experts wonder whether administration officials have thought deeply enough about the initiative.

Roger Baker, former chief information officer at the Commerce Department who is now chief executive officer at Dataline, said having a limited number of Internet connections will mean that agencies must become shared-service providers for field offices outside of headquarters, which will add an unwanted level of complexity.

"It will be hard to agencies to agree on a standard security policy for connections," Baker said. "What they need to do is set that security policy across government and then audit every organization to ensure they are abiding by it."

Baker added that the key to solving many federal IT security challenges will depend on how well agencies have architected their Internet connections.

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