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DHS to Proactively Scan Civilian Agency Networks for Cyber Threats

The public-facing segments of federal civilian agency networks will be regularly and proactively scanned by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an effort to speed up the response to cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

The public-facing segments of federal civilian agency networks will be regularly and proactively scanned by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an effort to speed up the response to cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

The plans were announced on Friday in an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum outlining the measures taken by the government to improve federal information security and privacy management practices.

The DHS has been monitoring agency networks for cyber threats, but the OMB believes that the government’s response to the recently discovered OpenSSL vulnerability dubbed “Heartbleed” has highlighted the need to formalize the process for regular and proactive network scans.

“This new process complements existing agency information security operations, to include network scans, and will provide a consistent scanning methodology that quickly identifies risks and vulnerabilities that may have government-wide implications,” Beth Cobert, the OMB’s deputy director for management, noted in a blog post on the website of the White House.

As part of this process, the DHS will also maintain a mechanism for reporting vulnerabilities identified in the systems and websites of federal departments and agencies.

In addition, the DHS will continue to deploy “consolidated intrusion detection and prevention capabilities” to protect information systems. One of the systems used by the agency for such purposes is Einstein, which provides intrusion detection and prevention, analysis, and information sharing capabilities.

DHS representatives told Nextgov that, in the past, they needed to obtain an agency’s permission before scanning its systems. Now, according to the memo, federal agencies have until November 14 to provide the DHS with an authorization for scanning their systems. Agencies will also have to provide a complete list of Internet-accessible addresses and systems, including IP addresses, on a semiannual basis. They must also enter an agreement regarding the deployment of the Einstein system.

Companies that provide security solutions to federal civilian agencies must ensure that the DHS’s network scanning processes are authorized.

“DHS is taking multiple steps to ensure the information is protected once it is collected from agencies. The equipment utilized by DHS meets security standards as identified in the DHS IT Services and Hardware Catalog, and analysts follow DHS and industry best practices for securing the data appropriately,” reads the memo signed by OMB Director Shaun Donovan.

“The data generated from the scans is encrypted in an automated report template before being transferred to the agency that owns the network. Additionally, DHS generally defers to the agency in question in response to any external requests for information (e.g. Congressional requests , FOIA, etc.) before releasing any agency vulnerability information,” it added.


Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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