recommended reading

DHS No Longer Needs Permission Slips to Monitor Other Agencies' Networks for Vulnerabilities

A reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo in the eyeglasses of a cybersecurity analyst at the watch and warning center of the Department of Homeland Security's secretive cyber defense facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

A reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo in the eyeglasses of a cybersecurity analyst at the watch and warning center of the Department of Homeland Security's secretive cyber defense facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho. // Mark J. Terrill/AP File Photo

This story has been updated to clarify the Einstein program's role in detecting cyber intrusions. 

The Department of Homeland Security has spelled out its intentions to proactively monitor civilian agency networks for signs of threats, after agencies arguably dropped the ball this spring in detecting federal websites potentially harboring the Heartbleed superbug.

Annual rules for complying with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act released Friday require agencies to agree to proactive scanning. The regulations also contain new requirements for notifying DHS when a cyber event occurs.

“The federal government's response to the ‘Heartbleed’ security vulnerability highlighted the need to formalize this process, and ensure that federal agencies are proactively scanning networks for vulnerabilities,” Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said in an Oct. 3 memo to department heads. “This year's guidance clarifies what is required of DHS and federal agencies in this area.”

In April, researchers discovered Heartbleed, a glitch in widely used data encryption software.

DHS for years has had the tools to monitor networks governmentwide for intrusions. In addition, "Einstein," a mesh of diagnostic hardware and software, detects and helps prevent cyber intrusions.

In May, Homeland Security officials told House lawmakers at a hearing that the department planned to expand Einstein's capabilities and deployment. At the time, Einstein's latest iteration, EINSTEIN 3 Accelerated, only covered seven departments and agencies. Extending coverage "has been significantly delayed by the lack of clear authorities for DHS," National Cybersecurity Communications Integration Center Director Larry Zelvin testified.

The new formalized process for vulnerability scans pertains only to public-facing civilian agency networks. The procedures involve surveilling Internet-accessible addresses and segments of agency systems for weaknesses on an ongoing basis, "without prior agency authorization on an emergency basis where not prohibited by law."

DHS officials Friday told Nextgov that, in the past, the department would have to obtain essentially permission slips from agencies before using Einstein and scanning their systems. Officials added that DHS now has 110 agreements from agencies to scan for vulnerabilities.

Beth Cobert, OMB deputy director for management, said in a blog post Friday the arrangement does not replace existing agency network scans, rather, it "will provide a consistent scanning methodology that quickly identifies risks and vulnerabilities that may have governmentwide implications."

Separately, going forward, if an agency detects any type of data interruption or data breach, the agency must inform DHS -- within one hour -- of the confirmed data loss. Agencies previously had only been required to report incidents involving the compromise of personal information.

Threatwatch Alert

Stolen credentials

14M University Email Accounts for Sale on Dark Web

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.