Cybersecurity

DHS official: New scanning authority will help nip next Heartbleed in the bud

sphere of binary data

The Department of Homeland Security’s newly enhanced authority to scan agency networks for serious computer viruses could significantly reduce the time it takes the government to nip the next Heartbleed in the bud, a senior DHS official said Oct. 7.                     

The new authority, which the Office of Management and Budget announced Oct. 3, “reduces that vulnerable window where departments and agencies may not know that a vulnerability exists in their environment and we can provide that content … so they can fix it more quickly,” said Roberta "Bobbie" Stempfley, deputy assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Before last week's OMB guidance, DHS needed permission from a federal agency before it could scan that agency’s networks for vulnerabilities, a process officials have described as a tedious delay to the government’s response to cyber threats. Deputy Undersecretary Phyllis Schneck, Stempfley’s colleague at NPPD, recently said this legal wrangling caused about a week of lag time between the emergence of the Heartbleed OpenSSL vulnerability and DHS’s scanning of agency networks for the bug.

That cumbersome process, which Stempfley said was "not an operationally responsive model," is no more. And it apparently was not that hard to abolish. DHS worked with OMB and the Federal CIO Council on the new guidance, "and we found that to be a very easy thing to change," said Stempfley, who was speaking at a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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