CISA Explains Why Enterprise Approach To Security is Gamechanging

Robert Avgustin/

The agency’s assistant director for cybersecurity highlighted multiple aims and accomplishments.

In executing an enterprisewide approach to cybersecurity, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is transforming the way the federal government tackles threats across the nation’s cyber landscape, a top security official said Thursday. 

“We try to be very focused on enterprise risks—how can we take action and how can they be tangible, doable actions, not just these things that are high in the sky, complicated and resource-intensive,” CISA’s Assistant Director for Cybersecurity Jeanette Manfra said at a GovernmentCIO cyber forum in Arlington, Va. 

Manfra explained that, like most companies, every agency is responsible and accountable for securing its own cyber networks and systems. She said before CISA, the Homeland Security Department and the Office of Management and Budget weren’t thinking of treating all 99 civilian agencies together as an enterprise.  

Because of this, decisions weren’t being thought through and officials weren’t effectively considering the significance of shared services between the civilian agencies, or the risk management transfers that accompany one agency hosting other agencies’ data and information. Further, they started to see that the connectedness of agencies’ IT infrastructures allowed adversaries to work through indirect entities to target a specific agency they aimed to exploit. 

“And so that’s where I see [Homeland Security] really filling this [gap] in federal cybersecurity is understanding and helping to manage enterprise risk across all civilian agencies,” she said. 

Manfra also highlighted what she views as some of the agency’s impactful accomplishments since it was elevated over the last few years. She noted that some of CISA’s other efforts also encompassed the agency’s unique enterprise-based approach.  

For example, CISA was given authority to issue binding operational directives and Manfra said after “thinking long and hard” about issuing specific directives to support agencies, they decided to focus on something that represents enterprise risks that agencies are not adequately prioritizing, such as common software tools they all frequently use that can be hacked by bad actors. 

“[We’re] taking the federal government, in many cases, as being the sort of laggard in history on certain security practices to actually leading,” Manfra said. 

She also noted that, through its Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program, CISA obtains unique authorities to procure tools and capabilities that they can deploy directly out to agencies. CDM is allowing CISA to standardize these tools and minimize costs as it gains the entire purchasing power of all the agencies coming together. 

This not only allows agency leads to gain valuable data and insights around their cyber and threat landscapes, but it also enables that information to be shared safely with Homeland Security. 

“So it’s really giving us sort of tremendous insight into what is happening across agency networks, both just common vulnerability exposure issues but also threats and tactics that are targeting multiple agencies,” Manfra said. “It’s allowing us to take that broader picture.”

And CISA is also working to improve agencies’ email, communication and web security. In the past, she said independent auditors found that federal websites were, on average, the least secure across the internet. 

“[As of] just a couple months ago, we are now leading all industries in the security of our websites,” she said.