VA launches cyber squad

The new Enterprise Cybersecurity Strategy Team will be led by Susan McHugh-Polley, a senior executive program manager at Veterans Affairs.

Shutterstock imag (by Benjamin Haas): cyber coded team.

(Benjamin Haas / Shutterstock)

LaVerne Council, the new CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs, has assembled a team charged with coming up with an overall cybersecurity plan for the agency. The new Enterprise Cybersecurity Strategy Team will be led by Susan McHugh-Polley, a senior executive program manager at VA.

The team includes executives and subject matter experts from across the VA's Office of Information and Technology.

"The team's scope includes management of current cybersecurity efforts as well as development and review of VA's cybersecurity requirements and operations holistically -- from desktop to software to network protection," a VA spokesperson told FCW.

A summary of the plan will be made public once it is completed and presented to Congress, per the spokesperson. The plan is due to be completed in 45 days, according to an article in FedScoop, which first reported on the VA's new cyber effort.

The current cybersecurity strategy, dubbed "defense-in-depth," uses the Einstein 3 network protection system offered by the Department of Homeland Security as its perimeter defense. There are additional layers of protection around local networks, devices, data centers, and servers.

Stephen Warren, who served as acting CIO at VA for more than two years and is currently Council's deputy, published monthly reports on intrusion detection under Einstein 3, as well as potential data loss as a result of mishandled files and lost or stolen computer equipment.

According to a July fact sheet released just before Council was sworn in as VA's top tech official, the department has encrypted all of the more than 438,000 laptops and desktops on its network, and decreased its critical or high vulnerabilities by 71 percent between November 2014 and May 2015. Despite some gains, VA's inspector general gave the agency a failing grade on information security in the most recent security audit because of multiple outstanding recommendations going unfulfilled over several years.

The most recent public report for June 2015 said there were 2,076 veterans affected as a result of mishandled information, such as incidents in which printouts of patient information were displayed openly in public settings. None of the potential data loss incidents were the result of cyber attacks, according to the VA report.