Former Federal IT Execs: A Risk Based Approach to Security Needed

A Federal Times article recently noted that three former Federal IT Executives, including two high ranking IT security officials from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), felt that government IT security was too focused on compliance and oftentimes do not reflect their agencies’ most critical security needs. In a new report entitled Measuring What Matters: Reducing Risk by Rethinking How We Evaluate Cybersecurity, the authors note that government agencies continue to spend scarce resources on measures that do little to address the most significant cyber threats.

The report outlines the authors proposal for a new approach to security, the Organization Cyber Risk Management Framework. This is a risk-centric security management posture that focuses on establishing a security baseline for agencies that allows them to correctly asses their risk posture based on empirical data. The authors note that in order to move to this framework, agencies must first implement automated continuous monitoring programs, which they identify as continuous diagnostics and mitigation, configuration management, threat assessment, and remediation practices. We at FireMon could not be more excited to see the report identify the importance of configuration management, and we have highlighted the importance of configuration management as it relates to risk on this blog previously. When discussing a risk-based approach, security practitioners tend to gravitate to threat management. Threat management is sexy; it includes attacks and attackers, and makes security practitioners feel more like MacGyver vs. Dilbert. Configuration Management on the surface seems less sexy. Getting notification that someone added a new ACL to a router doesn’t invoke images of thwarting a hackers attack. Consider the all to common scenario though where the router admin fat-fingered said ACL, and accidentally enabled access to an internal network that should not have access from the outside world. Without real-time configuration change alerting that can identify a violation of agency or corporate security policy, an attacker might end up being the one that ultimately alerts the organization to the misconfiguration.

The report is very comprehensive, and provides a very through framework for how to implement a risk based security practice. While it is clearly focused on Federal Government agency environments, it provides some good insights for corporate security practitioners as well. The report concludes that To fix the problems of today and those of the years ahead, government should implement a more consistent method of evaluating cybersecurity threats — one which is measurable, transparent, and outcome-oriented. It is refreshing to not only see a recommendation on moving to a risk-based security posture, but one that includes the importance of device configuration management and its importance in truly knowing your risk posture.

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