Security Experts:

Why CISPA Falls Short on Addressing Cyber Security Realities

Why are people talking about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) as really protecting the United States from cyber threats? The bill claims its goal is to share intelligence on Internet traffic to help “ensure the protection of our national networks against cyber threats.”

Really? How does the sharing of information with the government, without any follow up regulation, help protect our national cyber infrastructure, which is mostly privately owned? It has to be part of the solution, not the entire solution because the bill, as it stands now, only provides a framework to share information between the private industry and the government on cyber threats.

CISPA Other than raising the hackles of every privacy group on earth, what is it going to accomplish? If private industry thinks the “information sharing” is going to be bilateral, they are crazy.

CISPA aside, I believe our intelligence services have little interest in sharing cyber intelligence with the private industry. Government cyber intelligence is mostly classified to protect collection methods, which are always more secret than the intelligence itself. The bill tries to provide a means to allow for security clearances of industry employees to see the information.

The burden just to sort out who gets cleared, and then in what capacity that information can be used without relieving the means of collection, or how the US government got the data, will make the intelligence autocracy crazy. The tendency will be to simply reclassify most of the data from Secret, which is the limit in the Bill, to Top Secret, or TS/SCI.

And what is the private sector going to do with this information if they get it years from now when the processes to obtain it are sorted out? Is it a naughty list to be used as a filter? Is it intelligence that proves an organization has an APT problem, and that they are the source of worms and viruses? Without revealing how they got this information, which is classified, what would they do with it?

On the other hand, the government would love to gather intelligence from the private industry, most likely in the form of net-flow data. But, since it is voluntary, why would private industry give the government any information? And if it is private industry that is insecure, and cannot protect itself, then things start to seem a bit twisted.

If you deconstruct the argument that a) the US’s critical infrastructure and the insecure Internet are inseparable, and b) that given the fact that we are being pillaged by the Chinese and others, and for whatever reason, and the government and private industry does not seem to be able to stop it, then c) there needs to be some government regulation, based on the compelling argument that our country’s national security is at risk, to insure some basic steps are taken by the private owners of our critical infrastructure to secure their infrastructure. There are a fairly broad number of government regulations that do that right now.

Regulations such as SOX, HIPAA, GLBA, HITECH, and others, are indirect ways to make private organizations protect critical data by demonstrating that they are using industry standards to ensure the Confidentiality Integrity and Availability (CIA) of some data. Nobody cried foul when HIPAA was released, or any other of the regulations, because the government required cyber security protections indirectly. Who would argue that hospitals should not have to protect your medical records, which are paper and electronically stored? HIPAA does not speak directly to any specific way for doing anything, just that an organization must demonstrate that they are taking all reasonable measures to protect Patient Identifiable Information, in the case of HIPAA. The ISO 27001 standard does that quite nicely for HIPAA, and all the other indirect regulations because it provides an industry recognized framework to demonstrate compliance.

For the owners of our critical national infrastructure the ISO standard might not be quite enough because it is too general. The complexities of our national TELCOs, from Tier one ISPs down the stack, foreign ISPs peering into our terrestrial network, sharing of BGP routs, utilities, critical industries, all represent a diverse slice of technology, each with a separate security focus. ISPs are different from utilities. The surface area and types of threats are very different. ISPs need to focus on availability, route filtering, DDoS, and other big picture issues, whereas a utility would need to focus on SCADA and enterprise network security. The list goes on when you begin to add defense contractors, railroads, finance, etc.

If they want to address this issue realistically, the government has to come up with a method to regulate network security compliance within each of these industries. The groups must be deconstructed at a level of abstraction so a corresponding regulation is relevant and addresses the perceived threat to our national security within that industry. The Utilities industries are a classic example. I believe there should be a federal rule that says that all SCADA devices should be absolutely free of a means to be actuated in an unauthorized manner from anywhere, the Internet, or within the utilities’ internal networks. Make the solution up to the utility to figure out, but tell them, because it is in our national interest, that they must check for and correct vulnerabilities in their networks that use ICS/ SCADA technologies and be prove that they did so. It is senseless that we are not doing this right now.

CISPA doesn’t come close to addressing the root of the cyber security realities the country is facing. People are focusing on the information sharing as a conduit to destroy people’s privacy, which is a different argument all together from protecting our critical national communications infrastructure. Like so many other things, congress seems unable to work to protect our national interests in a bi-partisan manner.

People agree that we will need a Pearl Harbor type of event before congress will be willing to upset the lobbyists and interests who see these regulations as a burden on their business.

Related Reading: CISPA Passes After Surprise Vote - Heads to Senate While Facing Veto

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Adam Rice runs ALR Systems, LCC, an independent Security Consultancy. He has over 17 years of leadership experience within the security industry. He has filled several CSO and CISO roles, as well as positions in senior roles within Security Professional Services, Operations, and Managed Security Services. Adam has broad expertise in the establishment and management of global corporate security organizations and the management of all risks to his customers to include physical security, information security, personnel security, and executive security. Adam also spent 23 years with the US Army’s Special Forces, as an Operational Senior Special Forces NCO, with time in the regular Army and National Guard.
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