Facing the Cybersecurity Threat Head On

In October, ghosts and goblins come to life as decorations on front lawns and as candy-seeking children knocking on our doors. But stepping away from the frivolity of Halloween, October has also become a time for us to reflect on the real threats we face year-round when it comes to our data, identity privacy and online security.

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM), spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is a "collaborative effort between government and industry to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and to ensure that all Americans have the resources they need to be safer and more secure online." This year's theme is Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT. Programs around the country will address topics including citizen privacy, securing consumer devices, and eCommerce security.

More than IT professionals talking to one another, NCSAM aims to reach out to the public to emphasize personal accountability and educate people about the importance of taking proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity at home and in the workplace. The NCSAM website has some handy guides that can be shared to educate people on these actionable steps.

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FITARA 8.0 – No News is Good News

In place since 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) has aimed to provide guidance and checkpoints for agencies' modernization efforts. Over the years, the compliance status of the agencies has had its ups and downs.

The latest report card, issued in June 2019 showed fairly steady performance when it comes to meeting FITARA goals and mandates. This 8.0 report card was the first to include a cybersecurity score that focused on FISMA (Federal Information Security Modernization Act) compliance. This report also took out the score for Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) as the majority of agencies are holding steady on that score and/or it is complicated by technology interdependencies.

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Department Spotlight: The Department of Energy

The mission of the Department of Energy (DOE) is "to ensure America's security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions." Technology plays a huge role in both the research surrounding and protection of energy resources.

The DOE may lead the government in their use of supercomputer technology. In fact, supercomputering is one of the key focus areas in the agency's budget. This spring the DOE issued a contract that will allow them to build the world's most powerful computer with a performance greater than 1.5 exaflops. Supercomputers, like the one being built, provide researchers with the needed speed and scale to conduct scientific modeling and simulations as well as utilize AI and analytics for activities as diverse as manufacturing and public health.

Of course, the security of the data running through these supercomputers, as well as the national power grid itself is of paramount focus for the DOE. To support these growing needs, the DOE is looking to blockchain as a way to secure energy delivery and more.

We've pulled together a list of upcoming events that will help the DOE, as well as the companies that serve it, better understand the technologies that can ensure our energy supply remains secure and efficient.

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Insider Threat Goes Mobile

Insider Threat has been a recognized attack and vulnerability vector for some time. In fact, one survey found that government IT professionals report that insider threats are at an all-time high. One source of this increase may be the rise in the use of mobile devices to access government systems. The main challenge in securing mobile access is ensuring that the person who owns the device is the one actually using it and the apps that reside on it. The portability and ease with which devices are lost and misplaced complicate security authentication efforts. But there are ways to mitigate this risk.

Agencies have looked to multi-factor identification to confirm the person accessing the system is who they say they are. This process includes combining two or more credentials. Typically this is something a person knows (a password), and something they have (an access card or a fingerprint). A practice growing in popularity as part of multi-factor identification is behavioral analytics (BA). This looks at how users typically interact with an application or device analyzing things like browsing habits, message syntax, even how they hold the device. If the behavior is out of the realm of normal, the system can lock that user out until they prove their identity another way.

Implementing these types of identity tracking and management is, of course, not without issue. The Department of Homeland Security is being challenged to put more procedures and policies in place to ensure its insider threat program doesn't violate employees' Fourth Amendment rights (protection against unreasonable searches and seizure).

There are many events in the coming months that include a deep look at insider threat and identity management to help navigate these security challenges.

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Getting on the (Block) Chain Gang

We've been watching the use of blockchain growing in the government space as agencies look for ways to more efficiently and securely share their data. A Congressional Resolution was introduced to tout the promise of blockchain saying that, "blockchain has incredible potential that must be nurtured through support for research and development and a thoughtful and innovation-friendly regulatory approach." Following this encouragement from congress, it seems like each day there is a new application of the technology being tried and evaluated.

We've gathered a couple applications that we found interesting to help illustrate what blockchain is and what it can do.

  • Supply Chain - The Navy is looking to use blockchain to track aviation parts throughout their lifecycles, helping them better manage their supply chain. Similarly, the FDA is looking at how blockchain can better track the chain of custody of prescription drugs. In a related application, blockchain is also being considered as a solution for better tracking digital evidence in criminal cases.
  • Managing Public Records - State and local organizations are using blockchain to digitally distribute records, including marriage certificates, property titles, and business registrations.
  • Voting - Blockchain is being tested as a way to make it easier for service members and overseas citizens to vote. Last fall, 144 West Virginia voters living abroad were able to vote through their mobile phones via an app. Identities were confirmed by scanning a valid U.S. ID along with a selfie. Once the identity was confirmed, voters made their selections based on the ballot they would have used at their local precinct. Voters were then given a unique ID or hash that, once the vote was cast, allowed them to write on to the blockchain. Each submission was encrypted to the blockchain ledger, which gave election clerks the ability to conduct post-election audits.
  • Public Health - Blockchain can also speed the delivery of information as it relates to public health crises. The Food and Drug Administration is looking at how to use blockchain to share health care data securely and effectively in real time when epidemics like the swine flu threaten the health of the nation.

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