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

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

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