Security Experts:

Over 12,000 Cyber Incidents at DoD Since 2015, But Incident Management Still Lacking

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week has published a report detailing issues identified in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) cyber incident management processes.

The report represents the conclusion of a year-and-half audit (March 2021 to November 2022) of DoD’s implementation of reporting and notification capabilities related to cyber incidents.

The audit focused on in-place processes for reporting and notifying leadership, for reporting incidents involving the defense industrial base (DIB), and for notifying individuals when personally identifiable information (PII) has been exposed in a data breach.

DIB includes entities that are outside the federal government but which deliver goods or services for meeting U.S. military requirements.

“To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant guidance, analyzed samples of cyber incident artifacts and cyber incident reports submitted by the DIB and privacy data breaches reported by DoD, and surveyed 24 DoD cyber security service providers. In addition, GAO interviewed officials from DoD and cyber security service providers and convened two discussion groups with DIB companies,” GAO notes.

The information systems that DoD and DIB rely on to carry out their operations are susceptible to cyberattacks, with more than 12,000 cyber incidents experienced since 2015. While the DoD did establish two processes for managing cyber incidents (one for all incidents and another for critical incidents), it failed to fully implement either of them, GAO says.

“Despite the reduction in the number of incidents due to DOD efforts, weaknesses in reporting these incidents remain. For example, DOD’s system for reporting all incidents often contained incomplete information and DOD could not always demonstrate that they had notified appropriate leadership of relevant critical incidents,” GAO’s report reads.

GAO says that one of the reasons for the identified weaknesses is that DoD has not assigned an organization in charge with proper incident reporting and compliance with guidance, and that assigning such responsibility would also ensure that the DoD leadership would be better informed on the department’s cybersecurity posture.

The report also notes that, because DoD has yet to decide “whether DIB cyber incidents detected by cybersecurity service providers should be shared with all relevant stakeholders, […] there could be lost opportunities to identify system threats and improve system weaknesses”.

Another identified issue is related to the DoD’s established process for notifying individuals of data breaches involving their PII. The process involves risk assessments related to the PII and the type of data breach, but notifications are not documented, because they are often made verbally or by email, meaning that DoD cannot verify that people were informed about the incident.

The report makes six recommendations meant to improve DoD’s cyber incident management: to assign responsibility for overseeing incident reporting and notification, to implement enterprise-wide visibility into cyber incident reporting, to provide guidance on incident reporting, to ensure that information on DIB-related cyber incidents is shared with relevant parties, to encourage cyber incident reporting from DIB companies, and to document data breach notifications.

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