CDM contracts could open door to more efficient security monitoring

open eye and data

Federal officials and technologists who pushed to advance continuous monitoring cybersecurity capabilities are hoping the awarding of 17 continuous diagnostics and mitigation contracts this summer is the beginning of more efficient -- and less expensive -- IT operations for federal, state and local agencies.

"CDM can change the way government does security," said Mark Weatherford, former deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security. Weatherford joined a group of current and ex-DHS officials at an Oct. 29 Chertoff Group event who said the blanket purchase agreements awarded this past summer to 17 vendors could allow agencies to save billions in labor costs, as well as provide better security information.

Name Change

When the Homeland Security Department was first working on blanket purchase agreements for monitoring IT security, former Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute saw that the name —"continuous monitoring"— might be a problem. Some members of Congress, said Mark Weatherford, former DHS deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity, took "continuous monitoring" to mean DHS was developing a program to watch U.S. citizens all the time.

After the misunderstanding was explained, Weatherford said, Holl Lute ordered that the alternate term "continuous diagnostics and mitigation," or CDM, should be used exclusively.

Weatherford, now a principal at the Chertoff Group, joined John Streufert, director of Federal Network Resilience in the department's National Protection and Programs Directorate, and former DHS CIO Richard Spires in explaining how CDM would benefit a wider audience.

DHS is preparing to issue task orders for services under the BPAs, choosing which tools and capabilities it wants to deploy, said Streufert. It will provide continuous monitoring as a service for other federal, state and local agencies, looking to put a common set of technical tools in place incorporating national and industry standards to help detect network anomalies in real-time, speeding the ability respond to problems.

Although the overall CDM program is overseen by the General Services Administration, the BPAs were established on behalf of the DHS Office of Cybersecurity and Communications Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program. The program, according to GSA, brings an enterprise approach to continuous diagnostics and allows consistent application of best practices.

Providing more effective, uniform security monitoring capabilities, said Streufert, could save billions. Traditionally, he explained, federal agency CIOs spend 70 percent to 80 percent of their IT budgets to maintain systems and on labor to manually test and report on security and operations of their systems.

Streufert, Weatherford and Spires said CDM has to sink in not only at the technical levels at government agencies, but also into business operations. CDM bolsters government agencies that are looking to simplify IT architecture, including moving IT services to the cloud and consolidating data centers as part of a more efficient business plan.

DHS is also looking to extend continuous monitoring beyond just networks and IT gear to agency personnel in the coming year.

Streufert said DHS is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory on ways to score IT workers' access privileges with an eye toward securing networks and capabilities even more.

IT privileges are complex within organizations, and establishing a standardized way to provide privileges and security is not an easy job, Streufert said. Creating a mathematical weight that takes into account the potential damage a person might cause within a system could be a way to accommodate some of the complexity.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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