Acting on the cyber executive order: 3 keys to compliance

With the proper technologies in place, agencies can do better assessments and begin to truly address their existing gaps.

digital key

Nearly six months after President Donald Trump issued his Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks And Critical Infrastructure, actual implementation is getting underway.

The executive order instructed federal cybersecurity stakeholders to produce target profiles, based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Security, that identify both cybersecurity gaps and plans to mitigate them. Agency plans were due to the Office of Management and Budget in August, with OMB reviews following soon after.

We are now at the deadline for OMB and the Department of Homeland Security were then required to submit a plan to the president based on those agency self-evaluations. That plan must include a review of budget needs, which will be continually reassessed.

Both the gaps and the mitigation plans -- which will drive those budget needs -- are aligned with the security controls identified in NIST Special Publications 800-53. The path to the desired cybersecurity infrastructure in the target profiles is laid with stepping-stones aligned with the NIST 800-53 security control family.

To successfully navigate that path, and address the gaps in access control, identification and authentication, and system and communications protection security controls, agencies should look to three types of solutions:

  • Cryptographic key management and encryption applications. These solutions enable agencies to securely partition shared infrastructures and provide access controls through encryption.
  • High assurance authentication. Authentication solutions provide common assured (certificate-based) identities to access converged network and IT.
  • Cross-domain security. Cross-domain solutions facilitate information sharing across shared services and infrastructure.

Let’s take a closer look at each. And if this starts sounding too technical, don’t panic. It’s simply an explanation of the technologies an agency needs to ensure compliance, and how they’re used.

Cryptographic key management

Cryptographic key management solutions provide the access control and data security foundation to directly address security control gaps in several NIST 800-53 controls, including cryptographic key establishment and management; public key infrastructure certificates; and protection of information at rest.

Cryptographic key managers can automate encryption applications for all areas of infrastructure: applications, cloud storage, databases, files, self-encrypting drives, and virtual machines. They can also provide organizations deployment flexibility -- as enterprise hardware, virtual, and cloud-based appliances, or in small form factor (SFF) for tactical or remote bandwidth-constrained environments.

Additionally, hardware security modules provide the hardware root of trust and are the trust anchors for the organization’s key management and public key infrastructures. These key management and encryption technologies are used throughout the federal government.

High assurance authentication

High assurance authentication solutions provide the identification and authentication foundation for infrastructure access. These technologies directly address security control gaps for identification and authentication, authenticator management, cryptographic module authentication and the use of information assurance products.

High assurance authentication through public key infrastructure-based hardware authenticators (smart cards and tokens) binds the identity certificates to authorized individuals. The accompanying middleware enables stakeholder applications to use the authenticators for their organization and mission applications. These PKI authenticators are commonly used throughout the federal government.

Cross-domain solutions

Cross-domain transfer systems provide the access control foundation for multi-domain information sharing. These technologies directly address security control gaps for access enforcement, information flow enforcement, boundary protection and the use of information assurance products.

Cross-domain transfer systems are based on multi-level security for information sharing and content filtering. The MLS-based systems control information flows and release of authorized information between security domains or other sensitive enclaves. Cross-domain transfer systems allow stakeholders adaptability, through APIs, to use different protocols and types of content for information sharing and manage their associated policies. These cross-domain systems are commonly used by defense and intelligence community organizations in the federal market.

The technologies outlined here won’t necessarily ensure that an agency will be immediately compliant with EO 13800. But each of these addresses a concern that can make agency assessment easier, and can help establish a baseline budget for IT solutions that will make compliance and continuing re-evaluation much easier.