Oversight

GAO: Cyber efforts not enough

cyberattack graphic

Just days after President Barack Obama announced an executive order and presidential policy directive to bolster federal cybersecurity, the Government Accountability Office has released a new report calling for government officials to better define and implement cyber strategies.

GAO has been studying the government's information security posture for more than a decade; in 1997 the agency designated federal information security as a governmentwide high-risk area. In 2003, it expanded that designation to include cyber-vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure. A decade later the issue is more prominent than ever, but do the latest efforts stack up to the watchdog's recommendations?

Some of GAO's enduring areas of concern are explicitly targeted in the new White House orders: designing and implementing methods for assessing risks and sharing information, particularly within critical infrastructure; detecting, responding to and mitigating cyber incidents; designating roles and responsibilities; and instituting milestones and performance measures.

The lexicon sounds familiar as top officials from the agencies closest to the new cyber policies have been making the rounds in Washington, fleshing out the executive order, the PPD and initial plans for how they will be executed. Yet while the measures directly address some priorities that GAO laid out in the report, they are far from a panacea.

"The report that GAO released does raise a lot of very familiar stories," said Michael Daniel, White House cybersecurity coordinator. "The issues it raises unfortunately are not new -- we've been trying to deal with a lot of these problems for some time. I would say that if you take what we're doing with the executive order and the PPD, we're really trying to address some of those key areas."

Daniel, speaking Feb. 15 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that the two new documents represent a catalyst for the government in addressing some of GAO's core issues.

"Can we raise the baseline level of cybersecurity in our critical infrastructure?" he said. "Can we continue down a path -- you've already seen, in response to incidents over the past year, the government has improved its information-sharing with the private sector. And we need to keep doing better."

One of GAO's primary recommendations is for the White House cybersecurity coordinator to develop an overarching federal cybersecurity strategy that provides more efficient framework and better ensures progress. Daniel said that effort is now under way, but the White House initiatives alone won't be enough to tackle the full range of cyber issues the government faces.

"There are things in that GAO report that deal with, for example, how the federal government works to protect its own networks. And there are improvements that we need to make there - some of which we're already starting to make with DHS," Daniel said. "But some of that we need legislation to do. In the long run, the executive order and the PPD will address some of what the GAO identifies, and we've got other efforts we have ongoing. There still is some additional legislative work that remains."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by wk1003mike): cloud system fracture.

    Does the IRS have a cloud strategy?

    Congress and watchdog agencies have dinged the IRS for lacking an enterprise cloud strategy seven years after it became the official policy of the U.S. government.

  • Shutterstock image: illuminated connections between devices.

    Who won what in EIS

    The General Services Administration posted detailed data on how the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract might be divvied up.

  • Wikimedia Image: U.S. Cyber Command logo.

    Trump elevates CyberCom to combatant command status

    The White House announced a long-planned move to elevate Cyber Command to the status of a full combatant command.

  • Photo credit: John Roman Images / Shutterstock.com

    Verizon plans FirstNet rival

    Verizon says it will carve a dedicated network out of its extensive national 4G LTE network for first responders, in competition with FirstNet.

  • AI concept art

    Can AI tools replace feds?

    The Heritage Foundation is recommending that hundreds of thousands of federal jobs be replaced by automation as part of a larger government reorganization strategy.

  • DOD Common Access Cards

    DOD pushes toward CAC replacement

    Defense officials hope the Common Access Card's days are numbered as they continue to test new identity management solutions.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group