Cybersecurity

Cyber sharing with industry improving, DOJ says

Shutterstock image: shadowed hacker.

Private-sector executives have sent a clear message to the Justice Department: The cyberthreat information the department shares must improve, said Sean Newell, a deputy chief in the department's National Security Division.

As a result, officials are trying to send threat information to breach victims as an investigation progresses, Newell said Dec. 9 at an Atlantic Council event in Washington.

With regard to U.S. government efforts in general, he said, "I think there's been a lot of information sharing just in the last six months that might not be where people want it to be, but it's definitely a lot better than where it was a year ago."

One of the department's key interfaces with the private sector comes through FBI investigators. An audit published in July by the Justice inspector general found that the threat information the FBI was sharing with the private sector often lacked context or was outdated.

According to the report, companies said sharing information with the FBI was "akin to sending information into a black hole because they often do not know what becomes of it."

Newell, who advises FBI agents on cyber investigations, said, "We are trying to feed that [threat] information back to the victim so it is not a black hole."

Jason Healey, former director of cyber infrastructure protection at the White House, credited the Obama administration with being open with the private sector about the cyber vulnerabilities federal officials discover.

The fact that the administration has set a default policy of letting firms know they've been hacked "is an incredibly powerful...statement of public policy," Healey said at the Atlantic Council event.

But the FBI does not immediately disclose all cyber vulnerabilities known to agents. Amy Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI's Science and Technology Branch, recently told the Washington Post that the bureau takes advantage of zero-day exploits to hack computers and identify suspects. The strategy requires that the FBI not share news of a potentially widespread software vulnerability that could affect businesses and everyday users.

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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