Agencies need to talk IT, intel for supply chain

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Weak links in the technology supply chain can present as much of a threat as an insider who is leaking valuable information, federal and private industry experts said, and industry and government must work together to secure it.

The potential for IT supply chain flaws is as deep as the multitude of component suppliers that all computer and network equipment manufacturers use, said Jon Amis, director of supply chain assurance at Dell, in a panel during the April 10 Intelligence and National Security Alliance conference. A myriad of computer component companies' supply parts to computer makers, he said, each with its own set of insiders. With IT, he said, it's a "supply web, not a chain."

To work effectively, the federal government and private industry alike must work to bolster protection against supply chain threats, he said, adding that such work should start with federal agencies' internal IT and intelligence working together.

Amis said that his firm has "layers and layers" of defenses meant to mitigate such threats, working in concert with personnel security measures including extensive employee background checks.

"The IT and intelligence folks don't talk to one another," he said. To foster a dialogue with industry about how to staunch possible supply chain issues, federal agencies "just need to start with that. Get all the critical pieces together," then reach out to industry.

William Evanina, national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said contractors aren't the primary insider threat problem.

There is no reason to believe that contractors pose the majority of insider threat to federal or private network or systems, he said. "Quickly eliminate the thought that the majority of [insider] threat comes from contractors or millennials," he said. "There is no data to support that."

Phishing attacks that entice unsuspecting employees to click on bad links account for much of the risk, while a few determined insiders, such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Mannning, have done some of the most significant insider damage to the federal government and intelligence community.

Ultimately, Evanina said, it is the mind of the insider who wants to open up the taps of sensitive data at their agency that needs to be better understood.

Two researchers delivered a paper at the conference aimed at doing just that.

"Assessing the Mind of the Malicious Insider," from the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, illustrates how the researchers used a continuous evaluation behavioral model and data analytics to detect insiders that could be threats to their employers and its data. The model samples words used in emails, correspondence and other sources that could be used to develop monitoring tools that ingest and correlate phrases and words that have been proven to be associated with anxieties and problems that can add up to an insider threat.

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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