recommended reading

If You Fall for a Phishing Scam, Should You Lose Your Security Clearance?

Try not to get reeled in.

Try not to get reeled in. // project1photography/Shutterstock.com

If you fall for a phishing email, should you have your ability to handle sensitive government information revoked?

At least one federal chief information security officer is concerned about how frequently even senior-level federal employees fall for the bogus emails and is considering get-tough solutions.

Paul Beckman, the Department of Homeland security’s chief information security officer, said he sends his own emails designed to mimic phishing attempts to staff members to see who falls for the scam.  

“These are emails that look blatantly to be coming from outside of DHS -- to any security practitioner, they're blatant,” he said during a panel discussion on CISO priorities at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington on Sept. 17. “But to these general users” -- including senior managers and other VIPs -- “you'd be surprised at how often I catch these guys."

Employees who fail the test -- by clicking on potentially unsafe links and inputting usernames and passwords -- are forced to undergo mandatory online security training.

But Beckman said a small number of employees continue to fall for the fake scams -- even in the second of third round of phishing tests.

"There are no repercussions to bad behavior,” he said. “There's no punitive damage, so to speak. There's really nothing to incentivize these people to be aware, to be diligent."

Beckman said he wants to start discussions with DHS’ chief security officer -- who’s responsible for overall personnel security -- about incorporating employees’ susceptibility to phishing in broader evaluations of their fitness to handle sensitive information.

“Someone who fails every single phishing campaign in the world should not be holding a TS SCI with the federal government," he said, using the government acronym to describe a top-secret security clearance. “You have clearly demonstrated that you are not responsible enough to responsibly handle that information.”

Beckman said such discussions are still in their infancy. And not all CISOs are on board with the tough approach he advocates.

Rod Turk, the Commerce Department’s CISO, said he also runs phishing tests on his employees, but he said he views it as solely a training exercise.

More broadly, federal CISOs are concerned about the increasing sophistication of phishing campaigns against high-level federal personnel.

They worry the recent massive breach of background-investigation files at the Office of Personnel Management -- hackers stole data on 22 million federal employees and contractors -- could be used to craft even more convincing phishing attempts.

“One of the things they're going to do with [that information], you can bet your bottom dollar, is coming up with insidious anti-phishing campaigns that look very tailored and very personal to these people,” Beckman said. “Every bit of my personal information is in an attacker's hands right now. They could probably craft my email that even I would be susceptible to, because they know everything about me virtually.”

Turk agreed, calling the stolen data a “a goldmine for phishing expeditions."

(Image via project1photography/ Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Stolen laptop

Wireless Heart Monitor Maker to Pay $2.5M Settlement to HHS After Laptop Stolen

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

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

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

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