Government Can’t Turn on a Dime, News at 11

Posted February 27th, 2008 by

Are we done with the Federal Desktop Core Configuration yet? Are we compliant with OMB Memo 07-11?? Have we staved off dozens of script-kiddies armed with nmap and some ‘sploits they downloaded from teh Intarweb, all through hardening our desktops to the one true standard?

No? I didn’t think we would. Of course, neither did the CISOs and other security managers out there in the agencies. It’s too much too fast, and the government is too large to turn on a time. Or even a quarter, for that matter. =)

Now get ready for a blamestorm at the end of the month. By that time, all the agencies are supposed to report on their status to OMB. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s hardly unexpected.

So why haven’t we finished this yet? Inquiring minds want to know.

Well, it all goes back to the big question of “how many directions can today’s government CISO be pulled in?” Think about it: You’ve got IPV6, HSPD-12, all the PII guidance (Memo 06-16 et al), reducing Internet connections down to 50, aligning your IT systems with the Federal Enterprise Architecture, getting your Internet connections monitored by Einstein, and the usual administrative overhead. that’s too many major initiatives all at the same time, and it’s a good way to be torn in too many directions at the same time. In government-speak, these are all what we call “unfunded mandates”, and one is bad enough to cripple your budget, much less a handful of them.

Where we’re at right now with FDCC is that the implementers are finding out what applications are broken, and we’re starting to impact operations–not being able to get the job done. Yes, this is the desired effect, it puts the pressure on the OS vendors and the application vendors, and it’s a good thing, IMO–we won’t buy your software if it doesn’t support our security model, and we’ll take our $75B IT budget with us. Suddenly, it’s the gorilla of market pressure throwing its weight around, and the BSOFH inside me likes this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in FDCC (for both the Government and with a payoff for the civilian world), and I think it’s security-sound once it’s implemented, but in order for it to work, the following “infrastructure” needs to be in place:

  • An official image shared between agencies
  • Ability to buy a hardened FDCC OS as part of purchasing the hardware
  • Microsoft rolling FDCC into its standard COTS build that it offers to the rest of the world
  • Applications that are certified to run on the “one standard to rule them all” and on a list so I can pick one and know that it works
  • Security people who understand GPOs and that even though it’s a desktop configuration standard, it affects servers, too
  • An automated tool to validate technical policy compliance (there, I said it, and in this space it actually makes sense for a change)

Until you have these things, what OMB is asking for the agencies to get squeezed between a vendor who can’t ship a default-hardened OS, lazy applications vendors who won’t/can’t fix their software, and the 5+ levels of oversight that are watching over the shoulder of the average ISSO at the implementation level. In short, we’re throwing the implementers under the bus and making them do our dirty work because at the national level we have failed to build the right kind of influence over the vendors.

Gosh, it sounds like this would go so much better if we phased in FDCC along with the next tech refresh of our desktops, doesn’t it? That’s how the “sane world” would tackle something like this. Not a sermon, just a thought. =)

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Posted in DISA, FISMA, NIST, Rants, Technical, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1.  Darren Couch Says:

    We should just beowulf cluster the intarweb and run SETI@home… script kiddies like aliens 🙂

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