CTO Perspectives on Cyber Security Bill

On June 10, 2010, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) unveiled a major cybersecurity bill designed to modernize, strengthen, and coordinate US Cyber defenses.

Senators Collins, Carper and Lieberman introduced this bill with the clear articulation to defend not just federal networks but the Internet itself.  As portion of the announcement recorded by TalkRadioNews is below:

The bill itself is named the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010.”

It creates an Office of Cyber Policy in the White House with a director accountable to the public to lead all federal cyberspace efforts and devise national cyberspace strategy.  A National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications within the Department of Homeland Security, also led by a director accountable to the public, to enforce cybersecurity policies through the government and even the private sector.

Some key aspects of this Bill, from the site of the HSGAC:

  1. Creation of an Office of Cyberspace Policy in the Executive Office of the President run by a Senate-confirmed Director, who will advise the President on all cybersecurity matters. The Director will lead and harmonize federal efforts to secure cyberspace and will develop a national strategy that incorporates all elements of cyberspace policy, including military, law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic.  The Director will oversee all related federal cyberspace activities to ensure efficiency and coordination.
  2. Creation of a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to elevate and strengthen the Department’s cyber security capabilities and authorities. The Director will regularly advise the President on efforts to secure federal networks.  The NCCC will be led by a Senate-confirmed Director, who will report to the Secretary. The NCCC will include the United States Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), and will lead federal efforts to protect public and private sector cyber and communications networks.
  3. Updates the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) to modernize federal agencies practices of protecting their internal networks and systems. With strong leadership from DHS, these reforms will allow agencies to move away from the system of after-the-fact paperwork compliance to real-time monitoring to secure critical systems.
  4. Requiring the NCCC to work with the private sector to establish risk-based security requirements that strengthen cyber security for the nation’s most critical infrastructure that, if disrupted, would result in a national or regional catastrophe.
  5. Requiring covered critical infrastructure to report significant breaches to the NCCC to ensure the federal government has a complete picture of the security of these sensitive networks.  The NCCC must share information, including threat analysis, with owners and operators regarding risks to their networks. The Act will provide specified liability protections to owners/operators that comply with the new risk-based security requirements.Creation of a responsible framework, developed in coordination with the private sector, for the President to authorize emergency measures to protect the nation’s most critical infrastructure if a cyber vulnerability is being exploited or is about to be exploited. The President must notify Congress in advance before exercising these emergency powers. Any emergency measures imposed must be the least disruptive necessary to respond to the threat and will expire after 30 days unless the President extends them.  The bill authorizes no new surveillance authorities and does not authorize the government to “take over” private networks.
  6. Development of a comprehensive supply chain risk management strategy to address risks and threats to the information technology products and services the federal government relies upon. This strategy will allow agencies to make informed decisions when purchasing IT products and services.
  7. Requiring the Office of Personnel Management to reform the way cyber security personnel are recruited, hired, and trained to ensure that the federal government has the talent necessary to lead the national cyber security effort and protect its own networks.

Now some analysis:

  1. By ensuring the White House will have a Senate-confirmed Director, it will help underscore for the executive branch that this issue should be taken a bit more serious.  Sounds like a prudent thing for the Congress to do.
  2. Creating a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) in DHS with a leader also confirmed by the Senate sends a similar message, but it also empowers an individual and group to do something that no one has been authorized to do before (at least no one under the rank of President). This office will have authority to lead across government.  As a CTO with enterprise experience I respect this kind of position.  I am convinced you cannot defend large enterprises without the smart application of both central authority and decentralized action.  If you try with either of those missing you fail.  I am not worried about too much technical authority being drawn into one location, there are too many forces at play to keep that power from being abused and, if the person and staff are picked carefully, they will avoid making decisions that impact missions in a negative way.  Notice I have caveated my opinion here.  The nation must choose wisely and put a very smart technology leader in this position.  Someone who can enforce the right standards and give direction when required but can back off and let agency IT leaders run things when required and that person must be smart enough to know when and how to decide what to decide about.
  3. Updating FISMA is long overdue.  Moving towards real-time monitoring is GREAT!  It is the only way I know of to move towards enhancing both security and functionality at the same time.
  4. Naming the NCCC as the focal point for coordination with the federal sector is also a solid move.  It goes without saying, but the NCCC should be staffed and led by very savvy, very social, very action-oriented people.  Without social leaders with high emotional intelligence we stand the risk of getting what we have always gotten here.
  5. As a CTO, I applaud the measures this Bill describes for removing artificial impediments to information sharing.  Government and industry need trust-based relationships and unfortunately too many laws and behaviors that flow from those laws, like FOIA, have damaged those relationships.  Addressing them head on is the right thing to do.  Technologically there are few issues here.  Issues are in policy and the Bill seems to do a good job at addressing some big ones.
  6. Development of a comprehensive supply chain management strategy is another great goal I am glad to see.  There has been a great deal of action lately in establishing coordination mechanisms with senior IT leadership in the country and I believe this will serve as a good foundation for development of a strategy like this.
  7. The human side of technology is one that also needs significant attention and it is good seeing the Bill address this head-on by requiring OPM to reform the way the government leads cyber security personnel.

Some concluding thoughts:

  • I wish I would have raised another issue with the staffers.  I feel bad about this, but I have something I would like to add to the Bill.  I guess I’m too late, but maybe I can get my input to the SSCI or HPSCI instead.  I want to suggest that the US Intelligence Community be tasked with providing a detailed yearly cyber intelligence threat assessment  for unclassified dissemination. The IC does a good job of providing some counterintelligence assessments and frequently mentions cyber in open fora like Congressional Testimony, but I believe this issue deserves a focused, NIE-like report dedicated to this topic.  Of course the IC should also be tasked with support to the NCCC.
  • I found the Bill was full of smart information coordination and information sharing language and constructs.
  • The great work of folks at NSA, Cyber Command (including legacy organizations like JTF-GNO and JFCC-NW), STRATCOM, DHS, NCICC, US CERT, FBI, DC3 and many others must continue and I believe the language in this bill is very respectful of the great work that these groups have been doing.
  • I wonder who the first CTO of the NCCC will be?  That is going to be one cool job!

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About Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the publisher of CTOvision.com and DelphiBrief.com and the new analysis focused Analyst One Bob's background is as an all source intelligence analyst and an enterprise CTO. Find him on Twitter at @BobGourley