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The Cybersecurity Sprint: Are We Safe Yet? By @Kevin_Jackson | @CloudExpo #Cloud

NBC News reports U.S. officials have disclosed a hack of the Pentagon's Joint Staff unclassified email system

UPDATE: NBC News reports U.S. officials have disclosed a hack of the Pentagon's Joint Staff unclassified email system, which took place on July 25.

Recent unauthorized access to a U.S. government database led to thecompromise of information on at least 21.5 million individuals. This massive background investigation data breach also compromised usernames, passwords, mental health records and financial information. Although a security update applied by the Office of Management and Budget (OPM) and the Homeland Security Department (DHS) in January ended the bulk of the data extraction, the U.S. government-wide remediation efforts were extended by launching a 30-day Cybersecurity Sprint.

This action was done to assess and improve the health of all federal assets and networks. Agencies were instructed to immediately patch critical vulnerabilities, review and tightly limit the number of privileged users with access to authorized systems and dramatically accelerate the use of strong authentication, especially for privileged users.

Last month, federal CIO Tony Scott reported significant progress with the sprint citing significant progress that included:

  • A Federal Civilian agency increase in the use of strong authentication for privileged and unprivileged users from 42 percent to 72 percent
  • An increase in the use of strong authentication for privileged users from 33 percent to nearly 75 percent
  • The implementation of strong authentication across 95 percent of privileged users working in thirteen agencies, or more than half of the largest agencies - including the Departments of Transportation, Veterans Affairs, and the Interior Department

Although I applaud these recent efforts the Federal government has a very long way to go before anything like "Mission Accomplished" can be claimed.

One major and costly challenge will be in the area of software development. A recent analysis, State of Software Security by Veracode, that rated application security by using compliance with Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) top 10 vulnerabilities recommendations as a yardstick found a "low pass rate" in government applications. This dismal finding was theorized as being the result of a:

  • Higher use of scripting languages
  • More prevalent use of older languages which are known to produce more vulnerabilities
  • Low rate of software remediation (e.g. fixing flaws)

The four most important vulnerability categories listed by the study are SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), cryptography issues and command injection. This is due to the pervasiveness and severity of these vulnerabilities, specifically:

  • SQL injection was the application vulnerability most often exploited in web application attacks in a recent 2015 data breach Incident
  • Cross-site scripting is overall far more prevalent than any other category
  • OS command injection played a role in 2014's Shellshock vulnerability, in which a commonly used open source component was exploited in a way that allowed taking over a server to run arbitrary code

Government developed software has performed poorly by having the highest prevalence of both SQL injection and cross-site scripting when compared to other industry rates.

To improve on the current sad state of government cybersecurity, the Federal Information Security Management Reform Act (FISMA Reform), has been proposed as a new bill. This legislations offers five major initiatives designed to improve the overall security posture of federal networks:

  • Grant DHS authority to operate intrusion detection and prevention software across the .gov domain
  • Authorize DHS to conduct regular risk assessments on federal networks
  • Require DHS to enact defensive countermeasures in the event an intrusion is detected
  • Strengthen and streamline authority Congress gave to DHS last year to issue binding operational directives to federal agencies, especially to respond to substantial cybersecurity threats in emergency situations
  • Mandate annual OMB reports on enforcement of government wide cybersecurity standards

As citizens we all place a significant amount of trust in our government's ability to defend and protect society and our way of life. In the modern world this trust extends into our cyber life as well. Although individuals still need to take more responsibility for how they manage and protect their own information, our government needs to look at how they are managing our data and protecting information. National security needs to be a priority to all.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell's thought leadership site Power MoreDell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don't necessarily represent Dell's positions or strategies.)

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Kevin Jackson, founder of the GovCloud Network, is an independent technology and business consultant specializing in mission critical solutions. He has served in various senior management positions including VP & GM Cloud Services NJVC, Worldwide Sales Executive for IBM and VP Program Management Office at JP Morgan Chase. His formal education includes MSEE (Computer Engineering), MA National Security & Strategic Studies and a BS Aerospace Engineering. Jackson graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1979 and retired from the US Navy earning specialties in Space Systems Engineering, Airborne Logistics and Airborne Command and Control. He also served with the National Reconnaissance Office, Operational Support Office, providing tactical support to Navy and Marine Corps forces worldwide. Kevin is the founder and author of “Cloud Musings”, a widely followed blog that focuses on the use of cloud computing by the Federal government. He is also the editor and founder of “Government Cloud Computing” electronic magazine, published at Ulitzer.com. To set up an appointment CLICK HERE

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