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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Posted in Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Blow-By-Blow on S.773–The Cybersecurity Act of 2009–Part 2

Posted April 16th, 2009 by

Rybolov Note: this is part 2 in a series about S.773.  Go read the bill hereGo read part one here. Go read part 3 here. Go read part four hereGo read part 5 here. =)

SEC. 7. LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION OF CYBERSECURITY PROFESSIONALS. This section has received quite a bit of airtime around the blagosphere.  Everybody thinks that they’ll need some kind of license from the Federalies to run nessus.  Hey, maybe this is how it will all end up, but I think this provision will end up stillborn.

I know the NIST folks have been working on licensing and certification for some time, but they usually run into the same problems:

  • Do we certify individuals as cybersecurity professionals?
  • Do we certify organizations as cybersecurity service providers?
  • What can the Government do above and beyond what the industry provides? (ISC2, SANS, 27001, etc)
  • NIST does not want to be in the business of being a licensure board.

Well, this is my answer (I don’t claim that these are my opinion):

  • Compulsory: the Government can require certifications/licensure for certain job requirements.  Right now this is managed by HR departments.
  • Existing Precedent: We’ve been doing this for a couple of years with DoDI 8570.01M, which is mandatory for DoD contracts.  As much as I think industry certification is a pyramid scheme, I think this makes sense in contracting for the Government because it’s the only way to ensure some kind of training for security staff.If the Government won’t pay for contractor training (and they shouldn’t) and the contractor won’t pay for employees to get training because their turnover rate is 50% in a year, it’s the only way to ensure some kind of training and professionalization of the staff.  Does this scale to the rest of the country?  I’m not sure.
  • Governance and Oversight: The security industry has too many different factions.  A Government-ran certification and license scheme would provide some measure of uniformity.

Honestly, this section of the bill might make sense (it opens up a bigger debate) except for one thing:  we haven’t defined what “Cybersecurity Services” are.  Let’s face it, most of what we think are “security” services are really basic IT management services… why should you need a certification to be the goon on the change control board.  However, this does solve the “problem” of hackers who turn into “researchers” once they’re caught doing something illegal.  I just don’t see this as that big of a problem.

Verdict: Strange that this isn’t left up to industry to handle.  It smells like lobbying by somebody in ISC2 or SANS to generate a higher demand for certs.  Unless this section is properly scoped and extensively defined, it needs to die on the cutting room floor–it’s too costly for almost no value above what industry can provide.  If you want to provide the same effect with almost no cost to the taxpayers, consider something along the 8570.01 approach in which industry runs the certifications and specific certifications are required for certain job titles.

SEC. 8. REVIEW OF NTIA DOMAIN NAME CONTRACTS. Yes, there is a bunch of drama-llama-ing going on between NTIA, ICANN, Verisign, and a cast of a thousand.  This section calls for a review of DNS contracts by the Cybersecurity Advisory Panel (remember them from section 3?) before they are approved.  Think managing the politics of DNS is hard now?  It just got harder–you ever try to get a handful of security people to agree on anything?  And yet, I’m convinced that either this needs to happen or NTIA needs to get some clueful security staffers who know how to manage contracts.

Verdict: DNSSEC is trendy thanks to Mr Kaminski.  I hate it when proposed legislation is trendy.  I think this provision can be axed off the bill if NTIA had the authority to review the security of their own contracts.  Maybe this could be a job for the Cybersecurity Advisor instead of the Advisory Panel?

SEC. 9. SECURE DOMAIN NAME ADDRESSING SYSTEM. OK, the Federal Government has officially endorsed DNSSEC thanks to some OMB mandates.  Now the rest of the country can play along.  Seriously, though, this bill has some scope problems, but basically what we’re saying is that Federal agencies and critical infrastructure will be required to implement DNSSEC.

Once again, though, we’re putting Commerce in charge of the DNSSEC strategy.  Commerce should only be on the hook for the standards (NIST) and the changes to the root servers (NTIA).  For the Federal agencies, this should be OMB in charge.  For “critical infrastructure”, I believe the most appropriate proponent agency is DHS because of their critical infrastructure mission.

And as for the rest of you, well, if you want to play with the Government or critical infrastructure (like the big telephone and network providers), it would behoove you to get with the DNSSEC program because you’re going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this one.  Isn’t the Great InfoSec Trickle-Down Effect awesome?

Verdict: If we want DNSSEC to happen, it will take an act of Congress because the industry by itself can’t get it done–too many competing interests.  Add more tasks to the agencies outside of Commerce here, and it might work.

Awesome Capitol photo by BlankBlankBlank.

SEC. 10. PROMOTING CYBERSECURITY AWARENESS. Interesting in that this is tasked to Commerce, meaning that the focus is on end-users and businesses.

In a highly unscientific, informal poll with a limited sample of security twits, I confirmed that nobody has ever heard of Dewie the Webwise Turtle.  Come on, guys, “Safe at any speed”, how could you forget that?  At any rate, this already exists in some form, it just has to be dusted off and get a cash infusion.

Verdict: Already exists, but so far efforts have been aimed at users.  The following populations need awareness: small-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), end-users, owners of critical infrastructure, technology companies, software developers.  Half of these are who DHS is dealing with, and this provision completely ignores DHS’s role.

SEC. 11. FEDERAL CYBERSECURITY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. This section is awesome to read, it’s additions to the types of research that NSF can fund and extensions of funding for the existing types of research.  It’s pretty hard to poke holes in, and based on back-of-the-envelope analysis, there isn’t much that is missing by way of topics that need to be added to research priorities.  What I would personally like to see is a better audit system not designed around the accounting profession’s way of doing things.  =)

Verdict: Keep this section intact.  If we don’t fund this, we will run into problems 10+ years out–some would say we’re already running into the limitations of our current technology.

SEC. 12. FEDERAL CYBER SCHOLARSHIP-FOR-SERVICE PROGRAM. This is an existing program, and it’s pretty good.  Basically you get a scholarship with a Government service commitment after graduation.  Think of it as ROTC-light scholarships without bullets and trips to SW Asia.

Verdict: This is already there.  This section of the bill most likely is in to get the program funded out to 2014.

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Posted in NIST, Public Policy, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 2 Comments »

In Response to “Cyber Security Coming to a Boil” Comments….

Posted March 24th, 2009 by

Rybolov’s comment: This is Ian’s response to the comments for his post on Cybersecurity Coming to a Boil.  It was such a good dialog that he wanted to make a large comment which as we all know, eventually transforms itself into a blog post.  =)

You are making some excellent points; putting the leadership of the Administration’s new Cyber security initiative directly in the White House might appear to be a temporary solution or a quick fix. From my point of view, it looks more like an honest approach. By that I mean that I think the Administration is acknowledging a few things:

  • This is a significant problem
  • There is no coherent approach across the government
  • There is no clear leadership or authority to act on the issue across the government
  • Because of the perception that a large budget commitment will have to be allocated to any effective solution, many Agencies are claiming leadership or competing for leadership to scoop up those resources
  • The Administration does not know what the specific solution they are proposing is — YET

I think this last point is the most important and is driving the 60-day security assessment. I also think that assessment is much more complex than a simple review of FISMA scores for the past few years. I suspect that the 60-day review is also considering things like legal mandates and authorities for various aspects of Cyber security on a National level. If that is the case, I’m not familiar with a similar review ever having taken place.

2004 World Cyber Games photo by jurvetson.  Contrary to what the LiquidMatrix Security folks might think, the purpose of this post isn’t to jam “cyber” into every 5th word.  =)

So, where does this take us? Well, I think we will see the Cyber Security Czar, propose a unified policy, a unified approach and probably some basic enabling legislation. I suspect that this will mean that the Czar will have direct control over existing programs and resources. I think the Cyber Security Czar taking control of Cyber Security-related research programs will be one of the most visible first steps toward establishing central control.

From this we will see new organizational and reporting authorities that will span existing Agencies. I think we can also anticipate that we will see new policies put in place and a new set of guidelines of minimum level of security capabilities mandated for all Agency networks (raising bottom-line security). This last point will probably prove to be the most trying or contentious effort within the existing Agency structure. It is not clear how existing Agencies that are clearly underfunding or under supporting Cyber Security will be assessed. It is even less clear where remedial funding or personnel positions will come from. And the stickiest point of all is…. how do you reform the leadership and policy in those Agencies to positively change their security culture? I noticed that someone used the C-word in response to my initial comments. This goes way beyond compliance. In the case of some Federal Agencies and perhaps some industries we may be talking about a complete change sea-change with respect to the emphasis and priority given to Cyber Security.

These are all difficult issues. And I believe the Administration will address them one step at a time.
In the long-term it is less clear how Cyber Security will be managed. The so-called war on drugs has been managed by central authority directly from the White House for decades. And to be sure, to put a working national system together that protects our Government and critical national infrastructure from Cyber attack will probably take a similar level of effort and perhaps require a similar long-term commitment. Let’s just hope that it is better thought-out and more effective than the so-called war on drugs.

Vlad’s point concerning Intelligence Community taking the lead with respect to Cyber Security is an interesting one, I think the Intelligence Community will be important players in this new initiative. To be frank, between the Defense and Intelligence Communities there is considerable technical expertise that will be sorely needed. However, for legal reasons, there are real limits as to what the Intelligence and Defense Communities can do in many situations. This is a parallel problem to the Cyber Security as a Law Enforcement problem. The “solution” will clearly involve a variety of players each with their own expertise and authorities. And while I am not anticipating that Tom Clancy will be appointed the Cyber Security Czar any time soon. I do expect that a long-term approach will require the stand-up of either a new organization empowered to act across current legal boundaries (that will require new legislation), or a new coordinating organization like the Counter Terrorism Center, that will allow all of the current players bring their individual strengths and authorities to focus on a situation on a case by case basis as they are needed (that may require new legislation).

If you press me, I think a joint coordinating body will be the preferred choice of the Administration. Everyone likes the idea of everyone working and playing well together. And, that option also sounds a lot less expensive. And that is important in today’s economic climate.

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Posted in FISMA, Public Policy, Technical | 2 Comments »

Cyber Security coming to a boil

Posted March 16th, 2009 by

During his campaign, then candidate Obama promised he would, “make cyber-security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century. I’ll declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset, and appoint a national cyber-adviser, who will report directly to me.” Since Obama was elected there has been a great deal of speculation as to what real-life changes in direction and policy that promise would bring.

Last month, President Obama appointed Melissa Hathaway to be a Senior Director of the National Security Council. She immediately launched a 60-day review of security of Federal IT systems. As a result of this effort, there is much speculation that at the end of the 60-day review she will be appointed the National Cyber Advisor–the so-called Cyber Security Czar.

Just this week, the Director of the National Cyber Security Center, Rod A. Beckstrom, over at the Department of Homeland Security resigned. The press reports of Beckstrom’s resignation indicate some frustration on Beckstrom’s part. His frustration seems to be primarily aimed at the National Security Agency (NSA). Beckstrom suggests that the NSA has been subverting his efforts to coordinate cyber security efforts across the intelligence community.

A good friend of mine has suggested that the resignation is simply political and an artifact of the transition from one administration to another. He further suggests that this also signals a shift from leadership in cyber security from civilian agencies toward the Intelligence Community taking its turn at leadership. I think he may be right, too. However, I think there is more history here than just a shift in policy from one administration to another.

In my opinion, this isn’t just about politics. There are two drivers for this move. First, congress and the administration recognize that that the on-going assault on government and commercial networks is a national security issue and an economic security and competitiveness issue too. In today’s economic droop people often forget that two of our greatest economic strengths are our accumulated intellectual property and our hard working human capital. Both of these assests are discounted when criminal and national groups successfully attack our nations IT infrastructure. Recognizing this is a good thing, I’m not going to recount the long history of cyber assault on Federal IT systems by international cyber criminals, and “state-sponsored entities.” Facts and figures concerning this on-going assault and the damage associated with it is just a Google search away.

The second driver for a policy shift is that congress and the administration recognize that the FBI, Justice, DHS approach to cyber security is an utter failure. This failed approach sees cyber security as a criminal problem with industry participating in its own defense on a ‘voluntary’ basis. This has led to comical activities such as FBI delegation going to Moscow with hat in hand asking the Russians for help in tracking down successful Cyber Organized Crime groups based in Russia. The fact that these groups may have had strong official or unofficial connections with the Russian government should have given the FBI an indication of the lack of cooperation they would face –- I believe in Law Enforcement circles this is usually called a “clue”. Likewise, FBI delegations to Russia trying to track down Russian Cyber attackers that may have had some direct level of state support were equally unproductive. To be fair, the FBI was placed in an impossible position when they were asked to organize delegations like this.

So that kind of sums up the civilian or “law enforcement” approach toward national cyber security.

That leaves us to consider the much discussed alternative, specifically a shift in policy toward giving the intelligence community leadership in providing cyber national security. There have been attempts in the past to give the Intelligence Community greater responsibility for cyber security, but while the Intelligence Community seemed to have the technical resources to address these responsibilities, they were often confused by the mission and hampered by legislation and culture. By temperament, the Intelligence Community is about collection and analysis of information. Once you start asking them to do something about a situation that they have studied or understand well, you are often asking them to not just change their mission but also act against the very culture that made them successful. To understand a situation, the Intelligence Community works quietly, secretly, and in the shadows. To take action, they have to emerge for the shadows and act very publically. This transition can be difficult and even disastrous. Such transitions can give you the Bay of Pigs, non-judicial detention at Gitmo, and odd-ball assassinations–all sorts of activities that people hate because the actions themselves were not “peer-reviewed” as best security practices.

It’s not that the Intelligence Community is incompetent (well everyone makes mistakes or hides them), it’s just that that transition from intelligence/information collection to public coordination, and policy leadership, with all of the very public meetings, policy reviews, and planning drives the Intelligence Community from a position of strength and expertise to new ground. Unfortunately, another strong element of the culture of the Intelligence Community is that if the President calls, “they haul…” They just can’t bring themselves to say no, even if it’s a bad idea.

That brings us to the question, who should be responsible for cyber security? Well, every government agency wants the mission because of the funding that goes with it. But, it’s not clear who has the right perspective and culture. I suspect that the right answer is to combine the experience, and technical know-how from several agencies and to develop some new capabilities. This means that leadership of the effort has to be unambiguous. That is precisely why I believe the Obama Administration will keep the leadership on their new approach to Cyber Security right inside the White House itself. That really shouldn’t be a surprise since that is exactly what the Obama as a candidate said he would do.

Enigma Machines Collection at the National Cryptologic Museum photo by brewbooks.

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Posted in Public Policy, Rants, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 6 Comments »

The 10 CAG-egorically Wrong Ways to Introduce Standards

Posted February 20th, 2009 by

The Consensus Audit Guidelines (CAG) appear, at this point, to be a reasonable set of guidelines for mediating some human threats. I’m looking forward to seeing what CAG offers and have no doubt there will be worthwhile and actionable controls in the document. That said, there are significant reasons approach CAG with skepticism and assess it critically.

The motivation for CAG is described in a set of slides at the Gilligan Group site. It starts with a focus on what CIO’s fear most: attacks, reduced operational capability, public criticism, data loss, etc. Then it rightly questions whether FISMA is adequately addressing those problems. It doesn’t and this is the genesis of the CAG.

Consensus photo by Eirik Newth.

Unfortunately CAG subsequently develops by pairing this first valid premise with a set of false premises.  These propositions are drawn from slides at, attributed to John Gilligan or Alan Paller:

  1. All that matters are attacks. The central tenet of Bush’s Comprehensive National Cyber Initiative (CNCI) is adopted as the CAG theme: “Defense Must Be Informed by the Offense”. CAG envisions security as defense against penetration attacks. As any seasoned security practitioner knows, attacks are a limited subset of the threats to confidentiality, integrity and availability that information and information systems face.
  2. Security through obscurity. CAG seems to have taken the unspoken CNCI theme to heart too, “The most effective security is not exposed to public criticism.” Since its very public December 11th announcement no drafts have been made publicly available for comment.
  3. False dichotomy. CAG has been promoted as an alternative to the OMB/NIST approach to FISMA. It isn’t. An alternative would target a fuller range of threats to information and information system security. CAG should be considered a complement to NIST guidance, an addendum of security controls focused on defense against penetration by hackers. NIST has even acted on this approach by including some CAG controls into the 800-53 Rev. 3 catalog of controls.
  4. There is too much NIST guidance! This is the implication of one CAG slide that lists 1200 pages of guidance, 15 FIPS docs and the assorted Special Publications not related to FISMA as detriments to security. It’s like complaining that Wikipedia has too many articles to contribute to improved learning. Speaking as someone who scrambled to secure Federal systems before FISMA and NIST’s extensive guidance, having that documentation greatly improves my ability to efficiently and effectively secure systems.
  5. NIST guidance doesn’t tell me how to secure my systems! NIST’s FISMA guidance doesn’t step you through securing your SQL Server. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs also doesn’t deliver your milk. Why not? It’s not their job. NIST’s FISMA guidance helps you to assess the risks to the system, decide how to secure it, secure it accordingly, check that a minimum of controls are in place and then accept responsibility for operating the system. NIST also provides documents, checklists, repositories, standards, working groups and validation of automated tools that help with the actual security implementation.
  6. Automated security controls negate human errors. With the premise of all threats being attacks this is nearly a plausible premise. But not all security is technical. Not all threats come from the Internet. DHS, NIST, Mitre, and their partners have pursued automated security controls to enforce and audit security controls for years but automated security controls can only go so far. Human errors, glitches, unexpected conflicts and operational requirements will always factor into the implementation of security.
  7. Audit compatibility as a hallmark of good security. There is a conflict of focus at the heart of the CAG, it seeks to both improve its subset of security and improve audit compatibility. For technical controls this is somewhat achievable using automation, something NIST has pursued for years with government and industry partners. For operational and management controls it results in audit checklists. But audits are fundamentally concerned with testing the particular and repeatable, security needs focus on evaluating the whole to ensure the necessary security results. An audit sees if antivirus software is installed, an evaluation sees if the antivirus software is effective.
  8. Metrics, but only these metrics over here. When selecting the current crop of CAG controls decisions on what to include were reportedly based on metrics of the highest threats. Great idea, a quantitative approach often discovers counter-intuitive facts. Only the metrics were cherry picked. Instead of looking at all realized threats or real threat impacts only a count of common penetration attacks were considered.
  9. With a sample of 1. As a basis for determining what security should focus on the whole breadth of the security profession was queried, so long as they were penetration testers. Yes, penetration testers are some very smart and talented people but penetration testing is to security what HUMINT is to intelligence services. Important players, expert practitioners but limited in scope and best used in conjunction with other intelligence assets.
  10. Assessments rely on paper artifacts. The NIST guidance does not require paper artifacts. The first line in the NIST SP 800-53A preface is, “Security control assessments are not about checklists, simple pass-fail results, or generating paperwork to pass inspections or audits-rather, security controls assessments are the principal vehicle used to verify that the implementers and operators of information systems are meeting their stated security goals and objectives.” NIST SP 800-37 specifically and repeatedly states, “Security accreditation packages can be submitted in either paper or electronic format.”

CAG is a missed opportunity. Of the myriad problems with our current FISMA regime a lot of good could be achieved. The problems with guidance have many causes but can be addressed through cooperative development of best practices outside of NIST. The Assessment Cases for SP 800-53A is an example of how cooperative development can achieve great results and provide clear guidance. Other problems exist and can be addressed with better training and community developments.

My hope is that the Consensus Audit Guidelines will move towards a more open, collaborative development environment. The first release is sure to deliver useful security controls against penetration attacks. As with all good security practices it will likely need to go through a few iterations and lots of critical assessment to mature. An open environment would help foster a more complete consensus.

Consensus photo by mugley.

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Posted in BSOFH, FISMA, Rants, Technical, What Doesn't Work, What Works | 9 Comments »

Beware the Cyber-Katrina!

Posted February 19th, 2009 by

Scenario: American Internet connections are attacked.  In the resulting chaos, the Government fails to respond at all, primarily because of infighting over jurisdiction issues between responders.  Mass hysteria ensues–40 years of darkness, cats sleeping with dogs kind of stuff.

Sounds similar to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?  Well, this now has a name: Cyber-Katrina.

At least, this is what Paul Kurtz talked about this week at Black Hat DC.  Now I understand what Kurtz is saying:  that we need to figure out the national-level response while we have time so that when it happens we won’t be frozen with bureaucratic paralysis.  Yes, it works for me, I’ve been saying it ever since I thought I was somebody important last year.  =)

But Paul…. don’t say you want to create a new Cyber-FEMA for the Internet.  That’s where the metaphor you’re using failed–if you carry it too far, what you’re saying is that you want to make a Government organization that will eventually fail when the nation needs it the most.  Saying you want a Cyber-FEMA is just an ugly thing to say after you think about it too long.

What Kurtz really meant to say is that we don’t have a national-level CERT that coordinates between the major players–DoD, DoJ, DHS, state and local governments, and the private sector for large-scale incident response.  What’s Kurtz is really saying if you read between the lines is that US-CERT needs to be a national-level CERT and needs funding, training, people, and connections to do this mission.  In order to fulfill what the administration wants, needs, and is almost promising to the public through their management agenda, US-CERT has to get real big, real fast.

But the trick is, how do you explain this concept to somebody who doesn’t have either the security understanding or the national policy experience to understand the issue?  You resort back to Cyber-Katrina and maybe bank on a little FUD in the process.  Then the press gets all crazy on it–like breaking SSL means Cyber-Katrina Real Soon Now.

Now for those of you who will never be a candidate for Obama’s Cybersecurity Czar job, let me break this down for you big-bird stylie.  Right now there are 3 major candidates vying to get the job.  Since there is no official recommendation (and there probably won’t be until April when the 60 days to develop a strategy is over), the 3 candidates are making their move to prove that they’re the right person to pick.  Think of it as their mini-platforms, just look out for when they start talking about themselves in the 3rd person.

FEMA Disaster Relief photo by Infrogmation. Could a Cyber-FEMA coordinate incident response for a Cyber-Katrina?

And in other news, I3P (with ties to Dartmouth) has issued their National Cyber Security Research and Development Challenges document which um… hashes over the same stuff we’ve seen from the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the Systems and Technology Research and Design Plan, the CSIS Recommendations, and the Obama Agenda.  Only the I3P report has all this weird psychologically-oriented mumbo-jumbo that when I read it my eyes glazed over.

Guys, I’ve said this so many times I feel like a complete cynic: talk is cheap, security isn’t.  It seems like everybody has a plan but nobody’s willing to step up and fix the problem.  Not only that, but they’re taking each others recommendations, throwing them in a blender, and reissuing their own.  Wake me up when somebody actually does something.

It leads me to believe that, once again, those who talk don’t know, and those who know don’t talk.

Therefore, here’s the BSOFH’s guide to protecting the nation from Cyber-Katrina:

  • Designate a Cybersecurity Czar
  • Equip the Cybersecurity Czar with an $100B/year budget
  • Nationalize Microsoft, Cisco, and one of the major all-in-one security companies (Symantec)
  • Integrate all the IT assets you now own and force them to write good software
  • Public execution of any developer who uses strcpy() because who knows what other stupid stuff they’ll do
  • Require code review and vulnerability assessments for any IT product that is sold on the market
  • Regulate all IT installations to follow Government-approved hardening guides
  • Use US-CERT to monitor the military-industrial complex
  • ?????
  • Live in a secure Cyber-World

But hey, that’s not the American way–we’re not socialists, damnit! (well, except for mortgage companies and banks and automakers and um yeah….)  So far all the plans have called for cooperation with the public sector, and that’s worked out just smashingly because of an industry-wide conflict of interest–writing junk software means that you can sell for upgrades or new products later.

I think the problem is fixable, but I predict these are the conditions for it to happen:

  • Massive failure of some infrastructure component due to IT security issues
  • Massive ownage of Government IT systems that actually gets publicized
  • Deaths caused by massive IT Security fail
  • Osama Bin Laden starts writing exploit code
  • Citizen outrage to the point where my grandmother writes a letter to the President

Until then, security issues will be always be a second-fiddle to wars, the economy, presidential impeachments, and a host of a bazillion other things.  Because of this, security conditions will get much, much worse before they get better.

And then the cynic in me can’t help but think that, deep down inside, what the nation needs is precisely an IT Security Fail along the lines of 9-11/Katrina/Pearl Harbor/Dien Bien Fu/Task Force Smith.

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