'Good enough' isn't good enough to secure NRC network center

Shutterstock image (by Maksim Kabakou): Science data concept, nuclear icon.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's network security operations center meets the operational security requirements under an IT services contract, but there's room for improvement, according to a report from the commission's inspector general.

The security operations center is responsible for securing NRC's network infrastructure and monitoring the network for suspicious activity by using automated security tools, analyzing activity data and helping with incident response efforts.

The IG report notes that security is paramount for the center's operations, given the rise in Internet-based crime and the targeting of government IT operations by hackers.

In the Nuclear Threat Initiative's recent Nuclear Security Index, the United States was among nine out of 24 countries that earned a maximum score for cybersecurity with regard to nuclear facilities and the theft of nuclear materials. Australia, Belarus, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were the others.

However, the IG report states that from fiscal 2013 to 2014, NRC saw an 18 percent increase in computer security incidents reported to the Department of Homeland Security, such as unauthorized access, malicious code, social engineering, policy violations, scans and probes. The number was almost double the 9.7 percent increase in attacks governmentwide during the same period, according to the IG.

The current SOC is staffed by contractors working under the agency's seven-year $252 million Information Technology Infrastructure Support Services contract awarded to Dell Services Federal Government in 2011. The IG said employees from NRC's Office of the CIO oversee and work with the contractor staff.

That contract is set to expire in May 2017. However, NRC predicts it will overshoot its contract ceiling by $10 million by December. The commission is preparing a new contract, which could be fine-tuned to better support the SOC, according to the IG.

The IG said more accountable contracting techniques, such as performance-based contracting, should be incorporated into the new contract.

Furthermore, the IG recommended several measures to improve the SOC's performance and capabilities, including more clearly defining contract requirements and organizational roles and responsibilities, setting SOC-specific performance objectives, and making the SOC requirements part of agency policy for future contracts.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

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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