House panel praises cybersecurity teamwork

Shutterstock image (by Sergey Nivens): Security concept, lock on a digital screen.

Perhaps taking a page from the Department of Homeland Security's "If you see something, say something" playbook, the House Energy and Commerce Committee staff voiced it concerns to the Food and Drug Administration about a possible critical cyber vulnerability that turned up in a GAO audit before the assessment was completed.

The process of collaboration between the committee and the agency, it said, is "preferable to standard Congressional practices of public letters and hearings calling security officials to account."

The quick notification, according to a Sept. 29 statement from the Commerce Committee, resulted from a cybersecurity audit it requested from the Government Accountability Office in 2015 of the FDA's IT systems. In an update on that examination last January, the committee said GAO made it aware of "a potentially serious vulnerability had been found in FDA's network controls, one that could place the information and data in FDA's possession at severe risk if exploited."

Instead of waiting for the audit, which was part of a larger series of cybersecurity inspections looking into cybersecurity at Health and Human Services, the committee sounded the alarm at FDA. That agency, it said, was able to confirm and address the issue.

According to the committee, the vulnerability was one of many the audit turned up at FDA as the GAO completed its study. During the audit, committee staff worked with the FDA to let it know about weaknesses the study was bringing to light.

After the audit was complete, the committee said it asked FDA for its specific plans and scheduling to address vulnerabilities it exposed. It also advised FDA to tap the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team to search for any signs of compromise or unauthorized activity in its systems.  Those subsequent CERT scans have not turned up nefarious activity, it said.

The quick "robust collaboration" between FDA and bipartisan committee staff worked so well to focus FDA' cybersecurity priorities and tighten up its network controls, the panel said, the process could be a model for future collaboration with federal agencies on cybersecurity issues. 

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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