Can the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program Secure a Cloud Smart Government?


The good news is that CDM is proactively reaching out to leading cloud service providers for soltuions.

Until recently, the Homeland Security Department’s Continuous Diagnostics and Monitoring program focused on protecting on-premises IT environments. The CDM program’s focus is expanding, adding tools to help protect government’s growing cloud and mobile infrastructure. 

As agencies expand cloud procurements, there is still significant confusion over governance and risk management. What steps do cloud service providers take to manage risk? What steps do agencies take? How can we scale security to accommodate an influx of data from emerging technologies like the internet of things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the new Federal Data Strategy?

Part of the uncertainty around risk management and emerging technologies is due to the fact that the CDM program was initially built around an appliance-based inventory and monitoring system. This methodology was not designed to interoperate well with modern cloud solutions.  

For example, putting an appliance-based firewall to collect logs and user behavioral data is not only repetitive—the qualified cloud security providers already provide this information—but it creates unnecessary data taps or hairpinning, both of which lead to latency and a poor user experience. 

The good news is that CDM is proactively reaching out to the leading cloud service providers to discuss cloud-based solutions that may be incorporated in their offerings to help solve inventory and data collection goals.

There are no silver bullets, but the CDM program is evolving to help secure a Cloud Smart government. 

Volume and Visibility

CDM’s early phases are giving agencies a better understanding of their environments in terms of who and what is on the network. At the same time, the traditional network perimeter has evaporated. Teams are mobile and use a greater variety of devices. As a result, chief information security officers need visibility into cloud resources that is equal to or better than the visibility they have into on-prem data centers.  

“Getting that visibility into the cloud is critical,” said Homeland Security’s CDM Program Manager Kevin Cox at an ATARC CISO Summit earlier last year. “Where we’re headed is to expand out of the on-premise network and go out to the boundary.”

How CDM is Evolving to Protect a Cloud Smart Government 

The CDM PMO is taking a series of steps to help agencies modernize cyber defenses and ultimately, to catalyze secure cloud adoption.

First, from a procurement standpoint, the new Dynamic and Evolving Federal Enterprise Network Defense, or DEFEND, task orders are designed to support cloud and mobile cybersecurity. They offer a wider selection of products and services to analyze user behavior, mitigate threats, and give agencies the ability to implement CDM on their own terms. 

As agencies begin using CDM to protect cloud resources, DEFEND’s flexible requirements account for agency readiness, mission, complexity, and location of data. These allowances encourage agencies to adhere to Cloud Smart guidance and adopt cloud services based on their assessment of mission goals against technical and federal requirements. 

Second, the CDM Approved Product List is expanding to include FedRAMP-certified solutions for cloud security. The zero trust approach to security, for example, is based on the idea that organizations should not inherently trust any network or user. As more data moves to cloud, agencies need identity and access management controls that track who and what devices have access across all their IT environments. Zero trust can improve visibility, lower costs, and improve data protection.

Agencies are working with Homeland Security to pilot cloud-based CDM solutions. The Small Business Adminstration, as one example, has completed a successful CDM pilot using cloud-based tools.  

“I knew the current CDM platform would not meet my needs,” Maria Roat, CIO, SBA shared at the CDM Central conference in October. 

Roat explained she had been using approximately 40 tools. “I’m down to about 10 right now,” Roat said. “I’m using cloud-based tools to monitor and manage my network from all of my clouds ingesting all of that data all the way down to my mobile devices—I can see that entire footprint across my entire enterprise, for all of my users, wherever they are.”   

SBA opted to use its cloud’s built-in AI tools for the pilot and focused on the intent of the CDM program. 

A Whole-of-Government Effort

While the CDM program is adjusting for cloud through procurement models and included products, agencies will need to consider cloud security solutions against their own specialized needs. Agencies need scalable solutions that integrate with their tools/services/dashboards and are compliant with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act reporting, Trusted Internet Connection 3.0 policies, and other federal regulations. 

Each agency will need to evaluate its cloud provider’s current security controls. Will new tools connect into the current environment and dashboard with an API? One of the biggest mistakes we see is the assumption that security is a function of the cloud service provider alone—this is not the case. As everyone knows, the buck still stops with the CIO.

Getting DEFEND launched and learning from the experiences that will come from piloting new cloud-based tools, especially those focused on meeting Trusted Internet Connection 3.0 and other cyber requirements, will help advance CDM’s capabilities. 

In today’s world of encrypted traffic and with the move to TLS 1.3, CDM is going to look for more innovative ways to collect data. One suggestion for the CDM PMO would be to engage the innovative cloud service providers and take advantage of their full reporting capabilities, rather than trying to shoehorn old technology to achieve critical data-collection missions.  

Agencies should also think about how they can “future-proof” security. Too often in the past, federal IT leaders paid for technology they didn't need or use. But, today cloud security solutions allow an agency to buy just what it requires and scale quickly as needed. 

The CDM program’s increased flexibility for cloud solutions along with agencies’ own security assessments will reduce risk and meet growing data demands to secure a Cloud Smart government.

Stephen Kovac is vice president of global government and head of corporate compliance for Zscaler