Prepare for the worst…and hope for the best. This unofficial mantra of the emergency preparedness and response community also applies to cyber preparedness.
This week seven federal agencies, 11 states, 12 international partners, and 60 private sector companies are doing just that: preparing for the worst in cyberspace. These organizations are all participants in Cyber Storm III, a global cybersecurity preparedness exercise led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. By the end of the week, these organizations will have responded to a fictionalized cyber threat scenario designed to test their individual and collective capabilities to respond to cyber attacks and the National Cyber Incident Response Plan (Interim Version, September 2010).
Federal cyber preparedness has never been more important. The threat to federal information assets and networks is diverse, persistent, and growing.
In recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, General Keith Alexander, Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, stated that U.S. Department of Defense networks are “probed roughly 250,000 times an hour” and characterized the “…shift toward operationalizing cyber tools as weapons to damage or destroy” as a “great concern to us at Cyber Command.”
The National Cyber Incident Response Plan states:
Preparedness activities, including establishing common situational awareness in a common operational picture, are shared responsibilities across Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial governments and the private sector.
This week’s Cyber Storm III exercise will provide new insight into our federal agencies’ cyber preparedness. As agencies identify lessons learned from the exercise and begin to make improvements to address areas of weakness, they should do so through a framework addressing the following elements:
Governance: bringing together the mission, policies, architectures, and organizational alignment to establish the who and what for risk management strategies.
Risk management: establishing risk tolerance thresholds and implementing the technologies and processes that will assess, prioritize, and monitor risk on a continual basis.
Compliance: ensuring the organization maintains a cyber security posture compliant with federal laws, regulations, guidelines, and standards with the ability to demonstrate sound risk management strategies when scrutinized by internal and external auditors and Inspectors General.
Operations: designing, implementing, and monitoring security controls at the operational and tactical levels to include the ability to adequately respond to, withstand, and remediate cyber attacks.
General Alexander described the new approach needed for cyber deterrence by paraphrasing General Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “we must understand the cyber environment and, the capabilities of our adversaries, and our own abilities.”
By evaluating federal cybersecurity programs through this framework, agencies can better understand their capabilities and live up to their shared responsibility for cyber preparedness.