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The Data Watcher

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Few people realize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—the lending police deployed in response to the economic crisis—wrote “chief information security officer” into its org chart straightaway upon launch in 2011. The startup agency’s CISO, Zachary Brown, left the Internal Revenue Service to accept the job partly for the chance to build a security program on a fresh canvas, all in the cloud. 

 “We shouldn’t be surprised if an agency has a CISO,” says Brown, 34. “We should be shocked if one does not.”

The cybersecurity office continues to be a work in progress, but “we were able to secure more resources than what was initially allocated” by educating management on cyber threats and effective protections, he says. 

Brown’s safety approach focuses on pre-empting disruptions, rather than on responding to them. Although a third-party facility is storing his bureau’s information, Brown is the one enforcing data safeguards. “That’s one of the misconceptions about the cloud: You hand over the keys and that organization is then in control. It’s still our responsibility. It’s still our data. We still have to be able to monitor that data and where it’s going,” he says. Cloud providers are allowing the agency to deploy monitoring tools remotely through a secure network that tracks abnormalities in data flows.

Security operations at the bureau are extremely collaborative, both with outside providers and in-house staff. Information technology employees work in a wide-open bullpen. The chief information officer “sits 4 feet away from me,” Brown says. “We’re able to engage issues as a team more quickly and more efficiently because we’re all right there. There’s no dancing around a subject.” 



 

Aliya Sternstein reports on cybersecurity and homeland security systems. She’s covered technology for more than a decade at such publications as National Journal's Technology Daily, Federal Computer Week and Forbes. Before joining Government Executive, Sternstein covered agriculture and derivatives trading for Congressional Quarterly. She’s been a guest commentator on C-SPAN, MSNBC, WAMU and Federal News Radio. Sternstein is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

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