New National Cybersecurity Strategy: A Much-Needed Overhaul for Digital Ecosystems
The strategy will likely be a dramatic re-posturing, following rapid changes in the cyber landscape over the past few years.
The last National Cybersecurity Strategy was released in 2018. Since then, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has been formed, the Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds cyber-attacks took place, and the intent to achieve a zero-trust architecture was declared with Executive Order 14028, “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity”. Understandably, the global cybersecurity landscape has changed rapidly in the past several years. The new NCS, likely to appear in fall, will be a dramatic re-posturing for the federal government.
The highly anticipated NCS from the Office of the National Cyber Director, is likely to prioritize private sector collaboration to secure the government’s most sensitive assets and information.
The digital ecosystem
The ONCD Strategic Intent Statement identifies four principal outcomes for the upcoming NCS: ensuring federal coherence, improving public-private collaboration, aligning resources to aspirations and increasing present and future resilience.
As reflected by these priorities, the nation’s digital networks are currently unorganized and lack interoperability, which makes them much harder to defend. Adopting reactionary tactics to address vulnerabilities is not a sustainable solution and expecting individual vendors to solve myriad issues is impractical.
However, fostering a holistic “digital ecosystem”—where all government agencies and private sector organizations understand one another, have defined roles, communicate regularly and share information—can help achieve zero trust cybersecurity goals and future resilience.
The upcoming NCS should contain a roadmap that advises public and private entities on how to attain the ONCD’s four principal outcomes; defines intentional cybersecurity practices; addresses the importance of interagency, cross-agency and vendor collaboration; and accounts for agile practices to ensure the actions taken today can meet the unknown challenges of tomorrow.
Intention as the foundation
Notably, the ONCD’s strategic intent document relays that “cybersecurity today often lacks intentionality.” The need to improve intentionality in our national cybersecurity initiatives is one of the primary reasons the ONCD was created in 2021.
Intentionality must be founded in collaboration, otherwise those intentions may be misguided or unaligned. In order to have resilience now, and in the future, the public and private sector must work together to curate cybersecurity policy. To achieve this degree of collaboration, which has historically been a systemic challenge for government, every member of the digital ecosystem must identify and understand their role.
Furthermore, security must be top of mind and accounted for at every level of digital innovation. Foundational principles, such as enforcing least-privilege and assuming zero trust, should be adhered to consistently to inhibit malicious actors from infiltrating a network that contains valuable or sensitive data. Particularly in the modern remote workplace, intentional security practices should ensure on-premises, hybrid and cloud defenses, comprehensive network visibility, identity and credential access management, and secure endpoints. When every aspect of the ecosystem knows its role in shoring up cyber defenses and elects to implement those defenses throughout their network, as opposed to tacking them on as an afterthought, the attack surface decreases exponentially.
Shared responsibility, mutual understanding
The notion of cybersecurity as a “shared responsibility” is also prevalent in the ONCD’s Strategic Intent Statement. Cybersecurity is inherently a communal project because a digital network is only as strong as its weakest link. The importance of sharing resources, research, and information must be emphasized to keep all parties informed on priority areas, malicious activity and current trends in the industry.
Beyond exchanging information, this shared responsibility requires mutual understanding, particularly when regarding compliance standards. Industry must acknowledge and accept the importance of government compliance protocols and do what is necessary to meet those standards. The pursuit of authorizations such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program indicate a vendor’s commitment to compliance. However, cybersecurity threats and their respective solutions evolve at a rapid pace, therefore government agencies should do everything in their power to expedite the procurement process, without compromising on security.
Agility and resilience
Right now, cybersecurity is often mistakenly understood as an objective that can be achieved. However, the upcoming NCS must recognize that cybersecurity will never be fully complete, because there will always be new, emerging threats and evolving technology.
The new NCS is an opportunity to invest in building a digital infrastructure that is agile and flexible. Instead of trying to be “future-proof,” IT leaders should seek solutions that can be modified in the future to combat evolving threats. A multi-faceted problem does not call for a single solution. Rather, a dynamic, adaptable digital ecosystem is needed for the continuously changing cyber landscape.
A much-needed update
Developing a robust National Cybersecurity Strategy will be imperative to meet current cybersecurity challenges and best prepare for future threats. The entire digital ecosystem should be able to rely on the document for advice and best practices. If managed optimally, connectivity and collaboration can be a great strength rather than a security risk.
Not only should government agencies try to collaborate effectively with industry, but they should also seek industry partners who understand the value of cross-industry collaboration. Government organizations must also ask themselves what they can do to facilitate symbiotic relationships with other government entities and with their private sector partners to ensure a safer digital ecosystem for all. A prosperous, secure digital ecosystem will only be made possible through consistent and comprehensive cooperation.
Josh Brodbent is the RVP for Public Sector Solutions Engineering at BeyondTrust.