Coordinated efforts needed to fight cyberattacks

Adversaries only need a computer and an Internet connection to launch cyberattacks that damage government systems and steal data, said Eric Cole, director of cybersecurity oversight at the Energy Department.

Adversaries who are not connected to an organization’s network attack federal systems nonstop, Cole said at the Digital Government Institute’s Cyber Security Conference and Expo in Washington today.

“So where we may dominate from an information-superiority perspective, our adversaries are gaining from a time-superiority perspective,” he said. “They attack us when they want, however long they want, and then they can disappear and crop up somewhere else.”

Agencies should have plans for how various departments and possibly outside contractors will work together to mitigate the attacks, he added.

The threats agencies face today are common, said Jim Butterworth, senior director of cybersecurity at Guidance Software. “Very large corporations, household-name type corporations, have the same problems” that government agencies do, he added.

However, waiting until attacks occur instead of dealing with threats proactively can be disastrous, he said. “Cybersecurity is not an appliance you buy. It is a process you put in place that involves everybody on a team,” he said. “It has to be a forethought, not an afterthought.”

For example, at the Library of Congress, cybersecurity staff members rely on all the organization’s information technology offices to help them handle security events, said Stephen Elky, the library’s chief information security officer. When an event happens, he turns to systems administrators and operations staff to bring their expertise to the security operations center.

“When we actually do have an incident, we are working with integrated teams until things are fixed,” he said. “That has really been very successful for us, and it allows us to be able to address these issues even though we can't bring a huge staff or a lot of people to bear.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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