Old Saint NIST: Ho Ho Hold on, what’s this?

Posted December 13th, 2009 by

Every once in a while an opportunity presents itself to affect some real change in federal information security practice.  Now is such a time.  A slew of new NIST documents are being released between now and April.  These are the core NIST documents that describe how to satisfy FISMA.  They include NIST SPs 800-30 Revision 1, 800-39, 800-37 Revision 1 and 800-53A Revision 1. That’s where you come in.

The documents define what federal government practice will look like in the coming years.  If they are flawed then the practice will be flawed.  To prevent stupidity from leaking in when nobody is looking NIST releases the documents as drafts so everyone gets a chance to eyeball them.  First you eyeball, then you comment.  They look at the comments and they fix the flaws.  Fix the flaws now and you don’t live with them later.

The most important document in draft right now is the NIST Special Publication 800-37 Revision 1.  This document describes the central processes involved in the authorization of information systems that support the federal government.  Notice I didn’t say Certification and Accreditation?  That’s because C&A is deader than a sheep at a wolf convention. Want to know what replaces it?  Pick up a copy of NIST SP 800-37r1 FPD, give it a read and send in your comments.

Better yet, consider joining a formal document review process.  I’m leading a team of hale and hearty volunteers at OWASP in a NIST SP 800-37r1 FPD review and we’d love to have you come join the fun.   We’re on a tight schedule so now is the time to act.

Time is short, the comment period for NIST SP 800-37 Revision 1 FPD ends on December 31st, 2009.

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The World Asks: is S.773 Censorship?

Posted May 15th, 2009 by

Here in the information assurance salt mines, we sure do loves us some conspiracies, so here’s the conspiracy of the month: S.773 gives the Government the ability to view your private data and the President disconnect authority over the Internet, which means he can sensor it.

Let’s look at the sections and paragraphs that would seem to say this:

Section 14:

(b) FUNCTIONS- The Secretary of Commerce–

(1) shall have access to all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access;

Section 18: The President–

(2) may declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network;

(6) may order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security;

Taken completely by itself, it would seem like this gives the president the authorities to do all sorts of wrong stuff, all he has to do is to declare something as critical infrastructure and declare it compromised or in the interests of national security.  And some people have:

And some movies (we all love movies):

Actually, Shelly is pretty astute and makes some good points, she just doens’t have the background in information security.

It makes me wonder since when have people considered social networking sites or the Internet as a whole as “critical infrastructure”. Then the BSOFH in me things “Ye gods, when did our society sink so low?”

Now, as far as going back to Section 14 of S.773, it exists because most of the critical infrastructure is privately-held.  There is a bit of history to understand here and that is that the critical infrastructure owners and operators are very reluctant to give the information on their piece of critical infrastructure to the Government.  Don’t blame them, I had the same problem as a contractor: if you give the Government information, the next step is them telling you how to change it and how to run your business.  Since the owners/operators are somewhat non-helpful, the Government needs more teeth to get what it needs.

But as far as private data traversing the critical infrastructure?  I think it’s a stretch to say that’s part of the requirements of Section 14, it’s to collect data “about” (the language of the bill) the critical infrastructure, not “processed, stored, or forwarded” on the critical infrastructure. But yeah, let’s scope this a little bit better, CapHill Staffers.

On to Section 18.  Critical infrastructure is defined elsewhere in law.  Let’s see the definitions section from HSPD-7, Critical Infrastructure Identification, Prioritization, and Protection:

In this directive:

The term “critical infrastructure” has the meaning given to that term in section 1016(e) of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195c(e)).

The term “key resources” has the meaning given that term in section 2(9) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101(9)).

The term “the Department” means the Department of Homeland Security.

The term “Federal departments and agencies” means those executive departments enumerated in 5 U.S.C. 101, and the Department of Homeland Security; independent establishments as defined by 5 U.S.C. 104(1);Government corporations as defined by 5 U.S.C. 103(1); and the United States Postal Service.

The terms “State,” and “local government,” when used in a geographical sense, have the same meanings given to those terms in section 2 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101).

The term “the Secretary” means the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The term “Sector-Specific Agency” means a Federal department or agency responsible for infrastructure protection activities in a designated critical infrastructure sector or key resources category. Sector-Specific Agencies will conduct their activities under this directive in accordance with guidance provided by the Secretary.

The terms “protect” and “secure” mean reducing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure or key resources in order to deter, mitigate, or neutralize terrorist attacks.

And referencing the Patriot Act gives us the following definition for critical infrastructure:

In this section, the term “critical infrastructure” means systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.

Since it’s not readily evident from what we really consider to be critical infrastructure, let’s look at the implemention of HSPD-7.  They’ve defined critical infrastructure sectors and key resources, each of which have a sector-specific plan on how to protect them.

  • Agriculture and Food
  • Banking and Finance
  • Chemical
  • Commercial Facilities
  • Communications
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Dams
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Emergency Services
  • Energy
  • Government Facilities
  • Healthcare and Public Health
  • Information Technology
  • National Monuments and Icons
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials and Waste
  • Postal and Shipping
  • Transportation System
  • Water

And oh yeah, S.773 doesn’t mention key resources, only critical infrastructure.  Some of this key infrastructure isn’t even networked (*cough* icons and national monuments *cough*). Also note that “Teh Interblagosphere” isn’t listed, although you could make a case that information technology and communications sectors might include it.

Yes, this is not immediately obvious, you have to stitch about half a dozen laws together, but if we didn’t do pointers to other laws, we would have the legislative version of spaghetti code.

Going back to Section 18 of S.773, what paragraph 2 does is give the President the authority to disconnect critical infrastructure or government-owned IT systems from the Internet if they have been compromised.  That’s fairly scoped, I think.  I know I’ll get some non-technical readers on this blog post, but basically one of the first steps in incident response is to disconnect the system, fix it, then restore service.

Paragraph 6 is the part that scares me, mostly because it has the same disconnect authority as paragraph 2and the same scope (critical infrastructure and but the only justification is “in the interests of national security”. In other words, we don’t have to tell you why we disconnected your systems from the Internet because you don’t have the clearances to understand.

So how do we fix this bill?

Section 14 needs an enumeration of the types of data that we can request from critical infrastructure owners and operators. Something like the following:

  • Architecture and toplogy
  • Vulnerability scan results
  • Asset inventories
  • Audit results

The bill has a definitions section–Section 23.  We need to adopt the verbiage from HSPD-7 and include it in Section 23.  That takes care of some of the scoping issues.

We need a definition for “compromise” and we need a definition for “national security”. Odds are these will be references to other laws.

Add a recourse for critical infrastructure owners who have been disconnected: At the very minimum, give them the conditions under which they can be reconnected and some method of appeal.

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 5

Posted May 4th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 4 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one hereGo read part two hereGo read part three here. Go read part four here.

Themes: I’ve read this thing back and forth, and one theme emerges overall: We’ve talked for the better part of a decade about what it’s going to take to “solve” this problem that is IT security, from an internal Federal Government standpoint, from a military-industrial complex standpoint, from a state and local government standpoint, from a private-sector standpoint, and from an end-user standpoint.  This bill takes some of the best though on the issue, wraps it all up, and presents it as a “if you want to get the job done, this is the way to do it”.

Missing: The role of DHS.  Commerce is highly represented, over-represented to my mindset.  Looking at the pieces of who owns what:

Commerce security organizations:

NTIA–Technically not a security organization, but they manage the DNS root and set telecom policy.

NIST–They write the standards for security.

FTC–They regulate trade and have oversight over business fraud.

DHS Security organizations:

NPPD–They are responsible for critical infrastructure and national risk management.

NCSD–They do the security operations side of our national cybersecurity strategy and run US-CERT. (BTW, hi guys!)

Secret Service–They have the primary responsibility of protecting the US Currency which also includes computer crimes against financial infrastructure.

Science and Technology Directorate–They are responsible for research and development, including IT security.

DOJ Security Organizations:

FBI–Surprise, they do investigations.

So you see, some of the things that are tasked to Commerce are done by DHS and DOJ.  This is probably the nature of the bill, it was introduced in the Commerce committee so it’s understandable that it would be Commerce-centric.

Cost: One thing kept nagging me in the back of my head while going through this bill is the cost to do everything  We’re asking to do a lot in this bill, now what’s the total cost?  Typically what happens when a bill makes it out of committee is that the Congressional Budget Office attached a price to the legislation as far as the total cost and then what’s the breakdown for the average American household.  That data isn’t published yet on the bill’s page, so we’ll see in the next iteration.

In-Your-Face Politics: Really, this bill is showing us how to do the full security piece.  It includes everything.  It’s challenging people to come up with alternatives.  It’s challenging people to delete the sections that don’t make sense.  It’s challenging people to fix the scope issues.  Like it or hate it, it definitely stirs up debate.

Final Thoughts: S.773 is a pretty decent bill.  It has some warts that need to be fixed, but overall it’s a pretty positive step.

Capitol photo by bigmikesndtech.

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 4

Posted May 1st, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 4 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one hereGo read part two hereGo read part three hereGo read part 5 here. =)

SEC. 18. CYBERSECURITY RESPONSIBILITIES AND AUTHORITY. This section needs to be reviewed line-by-line because it’s dense:

“The President–

(1) within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, shall develop and implement a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy, which shall include–

(A) a long-term vision of the Nation’s cybersecurity future; and

(B) a plan that encompasses all aspects of national security, including the participation of the private sector, including critical infrastructure operators and managers;”

OK, fair enough, this calls for a cybersecurity strategy that includes the agencies and critical infrastructure.  Most of that is in-play already and has overlap with some other sections.

(2) may declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network;

Declaring an emergency is already a President function for natural disasters, this makes sense, except where you militarized cybersecurity and indirectly give the President the authority here to declare a cyberwar, depending on how you interpret this paragraph.

The cutoff authority has been given much talk.  This part pertains only to Government systems and critical infrastructure.  Note that the criteria here is that the part being cutoff has to have been compromised, which makes more sense.  The part that I’m worried about is when we preemptively cut off the network in anticipation of pwnage.

(3) shall designate an agency to be responsible for coordinating the response and restoration of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network affected by a cybersecurity emergency declaration under paragraph (2);

This is interesting to me because it leaves the designation up to the President.  Remember, we have all this debate as to who should “own” cybersecurity: DHS, DoD, NSA, FBI, and even Commerce have been proposed here.  I don’t think Congress should leave this designation to the President–it needs to be decided before an incident so that we don’t fight over jurisdiction issues during the incident.  Ref: Cyber-Katrina.

(4) shall, through the appropriate department or agency, review equipment that would be needed after a cybersecurity attack and develop a strategy for the acquisition, storage, and periodic replacement of such equipment;

This is good.  What it means is stockpiling or contracting for equipment in advance of an attack… think DDoS response teams and you have a pretty good idea.  And hey, this also works in disaster recovery, which I’ve never understood why we don’t manage some DR at the national level.  GSA, are you paying attention here?

(5) shall direct the periodic mapping of Federal Government and United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks, and shall develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of the mapping process;

Enumeration is good, depending on what we’re using the information for.  If you use it to beat up on the agency CISOs and the critical infrastructure owners/operators, then we have better things to spend our time doing.  If you do this and then use the information to help people Ref: security metrics, architecture support, Federal Enterprise Architecture.  I also have a problem with this because you can map vulnerabilities but how do you get the information to the right people who can fix them?

(6) may order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security;

OK, this gives the President authority over private networks.  And fo-shizzle, I thought the President already had disconnect authority over Government networks.  If I was an owner of critical infrastructure I would be sh*tting bricks here because this means that the President has disconnect authority for my gear and doesn’t have to give me an answer on why or a remediation plan to get it turned back on–Ref: National Security Letter.  I think we need the disconnect authority, but there has to be some way for people to get turned back on.

(7) shall, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy, direct an annual review of all Federal cyber technology research and development investments;

Good stuff, I would be surprised if this isn’t happening already, what with Congress providing the budget for cyber technology research.

(8) may delegate original classification authority to the appropriate Federal official for the purposes of improving the Nation’s cybersecurity posture;

This paragraph is interesting, mostly because it could go anyway.  If we get a Cybersecurity Advisor, this will most likely be dedicated to them, meaning that they get the authority to determine what’s national security information.  This also works in conjunction with quite a few sections of the bill, including all the information-sharing initiatives and paragraph 6 above.

(9) shall, through the appropriate department or agency, promulgate rules for Federal professional responsibilities regarding cybersecurity, and shall provide to the Congress an annual report on Federal agency compliance with those rules;

I had to read this paragraph a couple of times.  Really what I think we’re doing is establishing a case for agency executives to be found negligent in their duty if they do not ensure security inside their agency–think CEO liability for negligence.

(10) shall withhold additional compensation, direct corrective action for Federal personnel, or terminate a Federal contract in violation of Federal rules, and shall report any such action to the Congress in an unclassified format within 48 hours after taking any such action; and

There are 2 parts of this paragraph: Federal personnel and contractors.  This is a sanctions part of the legislation.  Note that there is not a penalty and/or authority for anybody outside of Government.  The problem with this is that proving negligence is very hard in the security world.  Combined with Paragraph 9, this is a good combination provided that the professional responsibilities are written correctly.  I still think this has room for abuse because of scoping problems–we already have rules for sanctions of people (personnel law) and contracts (cure notices, Federal Acquisition Regulations), only they don’t have much teeth up to this point because it’s hard to prove negligence.

(11) shall notify the Congress within 48 hours after providing a cyber-related certification of legality to a United States person.

I had to search around for a description here.  I found some people who said this paragraph pertained to the certification of professionals as in section 7.  This is wrong.  Basically, what happens is that the Department of Justice issues a “certification of legality” when somebody (usually inside the Government) asks them if a certain act is legal to perform.  Think legal review for building a wiretap program: the President has to go to DoJ and ask them if the program is legal under existing laws.

What this paragraph really does is it institutes Congressional oversight on a “FYI-basis” over Executive Branch decisions on policy to keep them from overstepping their legal bounds.

Verdict: This section is all over the map.  Like most things in S.773, it has some scope issues but overall this section establishes tasks that you can expect the Cybersecurity Advisor or DHS under the Cybersecurity Advisor’s auspices to perform.

Capitol Rotunda photo by OakleyOriginals.

SEC. 19. QUADRENNIAL CYBER REVIEW. This section mandates a review of the cyberstrategy every 4 years.

Verdict: We’ve been doing this so far on an ad-hoc basis, might as well make it official.

SEC. 20. JOINT INTELLIGENCE THREAT ASSESSMENT. This section mandates an annual report on the bad guys and what they’re doing.  This is similar to the Congressional testimony we’ve seen so far on the subject.  If we’re going to expect Congress to make good public policy decisions, they need the information.

Verdict: OK, I don’t see much wrong with this as long as it’s done right and not abused by politics.

SEC. 21. INTERNATIONAL NORMS AND CYBERSECURITY DETERRANCE MEASURES. This section authorizes/mandates the President to cooperate with other countries about “cybersecurity stuff”.

Verdict: Not specific enough to mean anything.  If we keep this section, we need to enumerate specifically what we want the Executive Branch to do.

SEC. 22. FEDERAL SECURE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ACQUISITIONS BOARD. This section creates a board to review large IT purchases.  Yes, that slows down the purchasing process horribly, as if it isn’t bad enough by itself.  Um, I thought we were supposed to do this with the Federal Enterprise Architecture.

Verdict: This is a macro-scale solution for a micro-scale problem.  Sorry, it doesn’t work for me.  Make FEA responsible for the macro-scale and push good, solid guidance down to the agencies for the micro-scale.  Replace this section with the NIST checklists program and a true security architecture model.

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 3

Posted April 30th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 3 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one hereGo read part two here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

SEC. 13. CYBERSECURITY COMPETITION AND CHALLENGE. This section of the bill creates a series of competitions for a range of ages and skills… with cash prizes!  Mostly it’s just the administration of competitions–cash prizes, no illegal activities, etc.

This goes back to the age-old discussions of glorification of illegal activities, giving tools to people who are too young to know how to stay out of jail.

But then again, I know why this section of the bill is in there.  If we want to grow enough security professionals to even remotely keep up with demand, we need to do a much better job at recruiting younger techies to the “security dark side”.  Competitions are a start, the next step is to get them into formal education and apprenticeships to learn from the gray-hairs that have been in industry for awhile.

Once again, the same verbiage about tasking Commerce with leading this effort… I’m not sure they’re the ones to do this.

Verdict: Already happening although in ad-hoc fashion.  I’m not sold on teaching high school kids to hack, but yeah, we need to do this.

SEC. 14. PUBLIC-PRIVATE CLEARINGHOUSE. Although the title of this sounds really cool, like super-FOIA stuff, it’s really just information-sharing with critical infrastructure owners and operators.

One interesting provision is this:

“The Secretary of Commerce–

(1) shall have access to all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access”

In other words, all your critical infrastructure information belong to Feds.  This is interesting because it can run the range from the Feds asking power grid operators for information and getting what they get, or it can be stretched into justification for auditing of privately-owned critical infrastructure.  I’m pretty sure that they mean the former, but I can see the latter being used at a later stage in the game.

One thing I thought was interesting is that this section only refers to information sharing with critical infrastructure.  There is a big gap here in sharing information with state and local government, local (ie, non-Federal) law enforcement, and private industry.  I think other sections–most notably  section 5–deal with this somewhat, but it’s always been a problem with information dissemination because how do you get classified data down to the people who need it to do their jobs but don’t have any level of clearance or trustability other than they won an election to be sheriff in Lemhi County, Idaho? (population 5000)  Also reference the Homeland Security Information Network to see how we’re doing this today.

Verdict: Really, I think this section is a way for the Feds to gather information from the critical infrastructure owners and I don’t see much information flow the other way, since the means for the flow to critical infrastructure owners already exists in HSIN.

Capitol photo by rpongsaj.

SEC. 15. CYBERSECURITY RISK MANAGEMENT REPORT. This small section is to do some investigation on something that has been bouncing around the security community for some time now: tying security risks into financial statements, cyberinsurance, company liability, etc.

Verdict: Seems pretty benign, hope it’s not just another case where we report on something and nothing actually happens. This has potential to be the big fix for security because it deals with the business factors instead of the symptoms.

SEC. 16. LEGAL FRAMEWORK REVIEW AND REPORT. This section requires a review of the laws, national-level policies, and basically what is our national-level governance for IT security.  As weird as this sounds, this is something that needs to be done because once we have a national strategy that aligns with our laws and policies and then is translated into funding and tasks to specific agencies, then we might have a chance at fixing things.  The one caveat is that if we don’t act on the report, it will become yet another National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, where we had lots of ideas but they were never fulfilled.

Verdict: Some of this should have been done in the 60-day Cybersecurity Review.  This is more of the same, and is a perfect task for the Cybersecurity Advisor when the position is eventually staffed.

SEC. 17. AUTHENTICATION AND CIVIL LIBERTIES REPORT. This section is really short, but read it verbatim here, you need to because this one sentence will change the game considerably.

“Within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the President, or the President’s designee, shall review, and report to Congress, on the feasibility of an identity management and authentication program, with the appropriate civil liberties and privacy protections, for government and critical infrastructure information systems and networks.”

So my take on it is something like REAL-ID and/or HSPD-12 but for critical infrastructure.

My personal belief is that if you have centralized identity management, it runs contrary to civil liberties and privacy protections: the power of identification lies with the group that issues the identification.  Hence the “rejection” of REAL-ID.

If I operated critical infrastructure, I would definitely protest this section because it gives the Government the decision-making authority on who can access my gear.  Identity and access management is so pivotal to how we do security that there is no way I would give it up.

On the bright side, this section just calls for a feasibility report.

Verdict: Oh man, identification and authentication nation-wide for critical infrastructure?  We can’t even do it in a semi-hierarchical top-down world of Government agencies, much less the privately-owned critical infrastructure.

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Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 1

Posted April 14th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is such a long blog post that I’m breaking it down into parts.  Go read the bill hereGo read part two hereGo read part three here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

So the Library of Congress finally got S.773 up on http://thomas.loc.gov/.  For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, this is the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 and is a bill introduced by Senators Rockefeller and Snowe and, depending on your political slant, will allow us to “sock it to the hackers and send them to a federal pound-you-in-the-***-prison” or “vastly erode our civil liberties”.

A little bit of pre-reading is in order:

Timing: Now let’s talk about the timing of this bill.  There is the 60-day Cybersecurity Review that is supposed to be coming out Real Soon Now (TM).  This bill is an attempt by Congress to head it off at the pass.

Rumor mill says that not only will the Cybersecurity Review be unveiled at RSA (possible, but strange) and that it won’t bring anything new to the debate (more possibly, but then again, nothing’s really new, we’ve known about this stuff for at least a decade).

Overall Comments:

This bill is big.  It really is an omnibus Cybersecurity Act and has just about everything you could want and more.  There’s a fun way of doing things in the Government, and it goes something like this: ask for 300% of what you need so that you will end up with 80%.  And I see this bill is taking this approach to heart.

Pennsylvania Ave – Old Post Office to the Capitol at Night photo by wyntuition.

And now for the good, bad, and ugly:

SEC. 2. FINDINGS. This section is primarily a summary of testimony that has been delivered over the past couple of years.  It really serves as justification for the rest of the bill.  It is a little bit on the FUD side of things (as in “omigod, they put ‘Cyber-Katrina‘ in a piece of legislation”), but overall it’s pretty balanced and what you would expect for a bill.  Bottom line here is that we depend on our data and the networks that carry it.  Even if you don’t believe in Cyberwar (I don’t really believe in Cyberwar unles it’s just one facet of combined arms warfare), you can probably agree that the costs of insecurity on a macroeconomic scale need to be looked at and defended against, and our dependency on the data and networks is only going to increase.

No self-respecting security practitioner will like this section, but politicians will eat it up.  Relax, guys, you’re not the intended audience.

Verdict: Might as well keep this in there, it’s plot development without any requirements.

SEC. 3. CYBERSECURITY ADVISORY PANEL. This section creates a Cybersecurity Advisory Panel made up of Federal Government, private sector, academia, and state and local government.  This is pretty typical so far.  The interesting thing to me is “(7) whether societal and civil liberty concerns are adequately addressed”… in other words, are we balancing security with citizens’, corporations’, and states’ rights?  More to come on this further down in the bill.

Verdict: Will bring a minimal cost in Government terms.  I’m very hesitant to create new committees.  But yeah, this can stay.

SEC. 4. REAL-TIME CYBERSECURITY DASHBOARD. This section is very interesting to me.  On one hand, it’s what we do at the enterprise level for most companies.  On the other hand, this is specific to the Commerce Department –“Federal Government information systems and networks managed by the Department of Commerce.”  The first reading of this is the internal networks that are internal to Commerce, but then why is this not handed down to all agencies?  I puzzled on this and did some research until I remembered that Commerce, through NTIA, runs DNS, and Section 8 contains a review of the DNS contracts.

Verdict: I think this section needs a little bit of rewording so that the scope is clearer, but sure, a dashboard is pretty benign, it’s the implied tasks to make a dashboard function (ie, proper management of IT resources and IT security) that are going to be the hard parts.  Rescope the dashboard and explicitly say what kind of information it needs to address and who should receive it.

SEC. 5. STATE AND REGIONAL CYBERSECURITY ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM. This section calls for Regional Cybersecurity Centers, something along the lines of what we call “Centers of Excellence” in the private sector.  This section is interesting to me, mostly because of how vague it seemed the first time I read it, but the more times I look at it, I go “yeah, that’s actually a good idea”.  What this section tries to do is to bridge the gap between the standards world that is NIST and the people outside of the beltway–the “end-users” of the security frameworks, standards, tools, methodologies, what-the-heck-ever-you-want-to-call-them.  Another interesting thing about this is that while the proponent department is Commerce, NIST is part of Commerce, so it’s not as left-field as you might think.

Verdict: While I think this section is going to take a long time to come to fruition (5+ years before any impact is seen), I see that Regional Cybersecurity Centers, if properly funded and executed, can have a very significant impact on the rest of the country.  It needs to happen, only I don’t know what the cost is going to be, and that’s the part that scares me.

SEC. 6. NIST STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT AND COMPLIANCE. This is good.  Basically this section provides a mandate for NIST to develop a series of standards.  Some of these have been sitting around for some time in various incarnations, I doubt that anyone would disagree that these need to be done.

  1. CYBERSECURITY METRICS RESEARCH:  Good stuff.  Yes, this needs help.  NIST are the people to do this kind of research.
  2. SECURITY CONTROLS:  Already existing in SP 800-53.  Depending on interpretation, this changes the scope and language of the catalog of controls to non-Federal IT systems, or possibly a fork of the controls catalog.
  3. SOFTWARE SECURITY:  I guess if it’s in a law, it has come of age.  This is one of the things that NIST has wanted to do for some time but they haven’t had the manpower to get involved in this space.
  4. SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION SPECIFICATION LANGUAGE: Part of SCAP.  The standard is there, it just needs to be extended to various pieces of software.
  5. STANDARD SOFTWARE CONFIGURATION:  This is the NIST configuration checklist program ala SP 800-70.  I think NIST ran short on manpower for this also and resorted back to pointing at the DISA STIGS and FDCC.  This so needs further development into a uniform set of standards and then, here’s the key, rolled back upstream to the software vendors so they ship their product pre-configured.

Now for the “gotchas”:

(d) COMPLIANCE ENFORCEMENT- The Director shall–

(1) enforce compliance with the standards developed by the Institute under this section by software manufacturers, distributors, and vendors; and

(2) shall require each Federal agency, and each operator of an information system or network designated by the President as a critical infrastructure information system or network, periodically to demonstrate compliance with the standards established under this section.

This section basically does 2 things:

  • Mandates compliancy for vendors and distributors with the NIST standards listed above.  Suprised this hasn’t been talked about elsewhere.  This clause suffers from scope problems because if you interpret it BSOFH-stylie, you can take it to mean that anybody who sells a product, regardless of who’s buying, has to sell a securely-configured version.  IE, I can’t sell XP to blue-haired grandmothers unless I have something like an FDCC variant installed on it.  I mostly agree with this in the security sense but it’s a serious culture shift in the practical sense.
  • Mandates an auditing scheme for Federal agencies and critical infrastructure.  Everybody’s talked about this, saying that since designation of critical infrastructure is not defined, this is left at the discretion of the Executive Branch.  This isn’t as wild-west as the bill’s opponents want it to seem, there is a ton of groundwork layed out in HSPD-7.  But yeah, HSPD-7 is an executive directive and can be changed “at the whim” of the President.  And yes, this is auditing by Commerce, which has some issues in that Commerce is not equipped to deal with IT security auditing.  More on this in a later post.

Verdict: The standard part is already happening today, this section just codifies it and justify’s NIST’s research.  Don’t task Commerce with enforcement of NIST standards, it leads down all sorts of inappropriate roads.

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