Report: Government Has No Cyber Warning System

The report suggests the chasm between various agency operations centers might open the door to incoming threats.

A masked hacker, part of the Anonymous group, hacks the French presidential Elysee Palace website on January 20, 2012 near the eastern city of Lyon.
National Journal
Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov
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Aliya Sternstein, NextGov
Nov. 5, 2013, 6:24 a.m.

The de­part­ments of Home­land Se­cur­ity and De­fense, in­clud­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, have no way of shar­ing cur­rent alerts about com­puter breaches with each oth­er or in­dustry, an in­spect­or gen­er­al memor­andum re­veals.

The prob­lem is not an in­ab­il­ity to doc­u­ment in­cid­ents, but, rather, an in­ab­il­ity to alert po­ten­tial vic­tims as the situ­ation un­folds and to provide in­struc­tions.

There is one sys­tem for cir­cu­lat­ing event re­ports, a sep­ar­ate one for cir­cu­lat­ing dir­ec­tions on how to re­spond, and no real-time sys­tem for join­ing the two, ac­cord­ing to an Oct. 24 DHS IG re­port re­leased this week.

The miss­ing tech­no­logy should be housed at the 24-hour Na­tion­al Cy­ber­se­cur­ity and Com­mu­nic­a­tions In­teg­ra­tion Cen­ter, a DHS or­gan­iz­a­tion that dis­trib­utes in­form­a­tion among ci­vil­ian agen­cies, the in­tel­li­gence com­munity, De­fense com­pon­ents and crit­ic­al in­fra­struc­ture sec­tors, such as the power in­dustry.

The re­port sug­gests the chasm between NC­CIC and vari­ous agency op­er­a­tions cen­ters might open the door to in­com­ing threats, such as ma­li­cious code tar­get­ing mil­it­ary sys­tems or oil and gas com­pan­ies.

“Ac­cord­ing to the NC­CIC dir­ect­or, there is no na­tion­al sys­tem or com­mon cy­ber tool cur­rently in place for the fed­er­al cy­ber cen­ters to share in­form­a­tion,” the re­port found.

Of­fi­cials at NC­CIC, pro­nounced “N-kick,” ac­know­ledged that a com­mon cy­ber sys­tem could al­low the sep­ar­ate cen­ters to ex­change “ac­tion­able in­form­a­tion,” elec­tron­ic­ally and on a real time basis, with key in­dus­tries to min­im­ize dam­age.

Right now, NC­CIC has a tick­et­ing sys­tem that doc­u­ments in­cid­ent de­tails, such as the time of the ab­nor­mal event, date it was re­por­ted, and phone con­ver­sa­tions about the situ­ation.

Mean­while, NC­CIC and the FBI have a sys­tem that dis­sem­in­ates bul­let­ins to com­pan­ies and agen­cies with in­struc­tions on pre­vent­ing de­struct­ive at­tacks and pro­tect­ing sens­it­ive data.

But the two sys­tems are not con­nec­ted.

“This tick­et­ing sys­tem does not link situ­ation­al aware­ness products (i.e., alerts and bul­let­ins) that have been is­sued and are as­so­ci­ated with a spe­cif­ic cy­ber in­cid­ent, threat or vul­ner­ab­il­ity,” the memo states.

An­oth­er dis­con­nect: “Fed­er­al cy­ber op­er­a­tions cen­ters of­ten share their in­form­a­tion with one an­oth­er. However, no single en­tity com­bines all in­form­a­tion avail­able from these cen­ters and oth­er sources to provide a con­tinu­ously up­dated, com­pre­hens­ive pic­ture of cy­ber threat and net­work status to provide in­dic­a­tions and warn­ing of im­min­ent in­cid­ents, and to sup­port a co­ordin­ated in­cid­ent re­sponse.”

NC­CIC does not pos­sess the tech­no­logy ne­ces­sary to broad­cast on­go­ing up­dates and avoid du­plic­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions, the in­spect­or gen­er­al re­por­ted.

As rem­ed­ies, IG of­fi­cials sug­ges­ted a know­ledge man­age­ment data­base, auto­mat­ic call­ing trees and a com­mu­nic­a­tions-track­ing sys­tem.

These tech­no­lo­gies will re­quire ad­di­tion­al fund­ing, Home­land Se­cur­ity of­fi­cials told in­spect­ors. Of­fi­cials plan to im­prove ex­ist­ing in­form­a­tion shar­ing tools and bring new cap­ab­il­it­ies on­line dur­ing the next four years, they said.

“Tech­no­lo­gies and pro­cesses to im­prove dis­cov­er­ab­il­ity and avail­ab­il­ity of data between and among the cy­ber op­er­a­tions cen­ters serve as a found­a­tion to the in­form­a­tion shar­ing cap­ab­il­ity sets. These cap­ab­il­it­ies, coupled with auto­mated ma­chine-to-ma­chine data trans­fer, will greatly im­prove the abil­ity to link data sets and im­prove situ­ation­al aware­ness,” Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, act­ing un­der­sec­ret­ary of the DHS Na­tion­al Pro­tec­tion and Pro­grams Dir­ect­or­ate, wrote in a Sept. 5 writ­ten re­sponse to a draft re­port.

More from Nex­t­Gov:

Obama Calls for IT Pro­cure­ment Re­form

FBI Seeks Video Re­cog­ni­tion Tech­no­logy to Auto­mat­ic­ally ID Sus­pects

FCC Eyes New Spec­trum for Wi-Fi-Type Ser­vice

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