DHS Prepares Overhaul of Internal Security Operations

Mark J. Terrill/AP file photo

Agency wants 'kill chain' to drive the revamp.

The Homeland Security Department late Thursday announced future plans to overhaul an organization that defends DHS’ own internal networks. 

A counter-hack mechanism called the intrusion defense chain, or "kill chain” -- developed by researchers at Lockheed Martin -- is expected to drive the revamp, according to DHS officials. 

The current DHS security operations center, or SOC, manages the department's wide area network, its data centers and agency-level local area networks. Verizon in 2008 was awarded a $678.5 million, 10-year contract to run the center.   

A kill chain predicts an intruder’s attack plan and breaks it down into steps that must be taken to achieve the ultimate hack -- for instance, obtaining a map of the most critical U.S. water plants from a DHS network. Operators then devise a countermeasure for each action that, if applied along any point in the chain, will thwart the criminal's plan. 

The office of DHS Chief Information Security Officer Jeff Eisensmith is requesting SOC operation ideas, "including most notably the employment of an Intrusion Defense Chain methodology to 'align enterprise defensive capabilities to the specific processes an adversary undertakes to target that enterprise," stated a market research survey posted on Thursday night. The notice quotes a 2011 Lockheed paper

Lockheed used kill chain in 2011 to successfully thwart a sophisticated intruder who had hacked the firm’s security provider RSA, according to Dark Reading.

The potential plans also ask vendors how they would measure the effectiveness of the center, if given the management job. And officials want contractors to list staffing and facilities requirements DHS should consider.

DHS apparently is still trying to figure out how much authority should be delegated to the department's many agencies. 

"What level of direct responsibility should the ESOC," or Enterprise SOC, "retain over host-based and network-based infrastructure? What responsibilities should be delegated to an IT department?” officials ask. 

The revamp already has begun, according to the notice. Officials are in the process of transitioning stewardship of the center from management within the Customs and Border Protection to the CISO’s office.

“Once transitioned, this ESOC will serve as a baseline for creation of the new NextGen ESOC capability,” Homeland Security officials said. “For the NextGen ESOC, DHS is seeking new and significantly enhanced capabilities to effectively counter current and emerging cyber threats in a cost-effective operational environment.”