Agencies’ cybersecurity scores on the rise

The federal government's latest cybersecurity report card shows improvement in protecting electronic information, but the Homeland Security and Defense departments still earned dismal marks.

The Justice Department jumped from a D last year to an A- on the new assessment, released Thursday by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And the Housing and Urban Development Department jumped from a D+ to an A+.

Overall, four agencies received an A+ this time, and another seven received a B or better.

"Obviously, challenges remain," Davis said. "But there are some excellent signs of progress in this year's report, and that's encouraging."

The governmentwide grade on the report card, which covers fiscal 2006, was a C-, marking an improvement over a D+ for the previous year.

The Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Interior, State and Treasury departments, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, flunked. The Homeland Security Department received a D, up from an F last year.

NASA, which fell from B- in fiscal 2005 to D- for fiscal 2006, and the Education Department, which fell from C- in fiscal 2005 to F on the latest report card, showed the biggest declines.

The Veterans Affairs Department, an agency under intense scrutiny for its information security practices, failed to submit a fiscal 2006 report on its compliance with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act. Because the grades are based on compliance with that law, Davis could not assign VA a mark for fiscal 2006. The agency received an F for fiscal 2005.

"Sometimes it's better to take the incomplete than take the F," Davis said. "We worry about a cyber Pearl Harbor. It is troubling that some of the agencies on the front line are not."

Davis said he is exploring ways to provide agencies with incentives to keep security in mind while configuring their systems. One possibility would be to tie the grades to the appropriations process, he said. For example, "bonus points could be awarded to agencies that move to Microsoft Vista and take steps toward secure configurations," Davis said.

The grades stem partly from annual tests of information security action plans and milestones or corrective action plans. Agencies are also rated on whether or not they certify and accredit their systems as secure, how well they manage the configuration of their computers to ensure security, how they detect and react to security breaches, their training programs and the accuracy of their inventories.

A major reason for HUD's move to an A+ was its thorough inventory of its information security equipment. The agency also showed improvement in nearly all categories.

Davis said the latest reports showed that agencies have more systems and that annual testing of security controls and contingency plans all increased. Slightly more systems were certified and accredited as secure, and agencies' reporting of breaches or other security incidents has improved dramatically, he said.

But agencies need to make more progress in developing effective security plans and milestones, Davis said.

Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute and a frequent critic of the FISMA process, said that creating incentives for agencies to improve their grades "opens the door to huge improvements in federal information security."

He said that incentives could persuade agencies to implement new OMB-mandated secure configurations. Previously, Paller criticized the report card process because agencies were spending their computer security funding producing reports mandated under the law, using up funds that could have been put toward securing their computer systems.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.