The Key Missing Piece of Your Cyber Strategy? Visibility

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To protect privacy, continuous monitoring and mitigation has become a popular method.

Wallace Sann is public sector chief technology officer at ForeScout Technologies, Inc.

As cyberattacks are becoming cheaper and easier to perform, government IT personnel are diligently trying to maintain increasingly complex IT systems. Meanwhile, our cyber adversaries remain motivated, sophisticated and well funded.

Federal chief information officers, chief information security officers and IT administrators are working to get ahead of these threats to ensure national security and protect the privacy of citizens.

To achieve the goal of protecting privacy, continuous monitoring and mitigation has become a popular method. The ability to make IT networks, endpoints and applications visible; to identify malicious activity; and to respond immediately is critical to defending federal information systems and networks.

Have Legislative Mandates Kept Up?

The Federal Information Security Modernization Act, or FISMA, outlines how the government should respond to cyber threats.

In the Defense Department, the Defense Information Systems Agency and U.S. Cyber Command have initiated the Command Cyber Readiness Inspection, or CCRI, program. This program is a comprehensive review of DOD cybersecurity posture for both classified and unclassified information systems, and agencies are using the Comply to Connect initiative, remotely scanning and remediating devices connecting to .mil networks to ensure they are in compliance with security requirements.

Assessments from the CCRI are designed to measure information assurance and network security programs, including all endpoints connecting either directly or through wireless access. Failure to meet CCRI requirements can result in a network being disconnected from the DOD’s Global Information Grid.

Unfortunately, the legislative process is anything but speedy.

Civilian legislators and regulators have recognized that laws and mandates cannot keep pace with fast-changing technology. Legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and FISMA set out broad, technology-neutral goals for agencies. Requirements for compliance are based on agency needs and the threats they face. This means technical specifications continue to evolve.

Civilian requirements have followed the lead of DOD, shifting their focus from checklist compliance to effectively measuring cybersecurity.

FISMA guidance from the Office of Management and Budget has moved from periodic assessment of static security controls to continuous monitoring of IT resources and activities. This can ensure that required controls are in place and that the IT environment is being effectively defended.

The culmination of this shift is the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation, or CDM, program.

By providing off-the-shelf technology to help agencies in the dot-gov domain perform continuous assessments of status, threats and activity, the CDM enables better real-time visibility of all IT networks and systems. The program specifies 15 monitoring capabilities, which can be either performed by agency sensors or provided as a service.

It is understood that complete CDM capability cannot be achieved by any single product. The key to achieving the goals of the program is the ability to take full advantage of the various security products already deployed in the network.

The Need for Interoperable Tech

Though in-depth security products are already hard at work defending agency networks, these products often fall short of their promised value because they operate independently, cannot adequately discover assets they are supposed to protect and do not collaborate. They also don’t provide the context, real-time monitoring, information sharing and automated response needed to meet modern security requirements.

How can agencies maximize their installed security infrastructure?

By implementing a set of network, security and management interoperability technologies that enable information sharing between different security products and management systems. This not only creates visibility, but also enables automated incident response and mitigation, leveraging existing security investments to achieve continuous diagnostics and mitigation.

Such an architecture helps to overcome the issue of standalone systems and information silos by sharing contextual information from various IT security and management products. It also extends real-time control and automated remediation capabilities to IT systems that before had been limited to collecting, generating, analyzing or storing information without making it actionable.

This architecture enables DOD and civilian systems to remain compliant and secure by enforcing policies. It also provides operational intelligence and policy-based mitigation, allowing agencies to move beyond mere regulatory compliance and ensure that systems actually are secured.

A Security Mandate

Government agencies have a difficult mandate in the securing of data and that of its constituents, but they are not without recourse.

The trick is to build an architecture strong enough to withstand attack yet flexible enough to grant access to those who need it. Compliance is also a critical factor, but continuous monitoring will enable IT personnel to cover all the bases and maintain a strong security posture as well.

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