Top administration cybersecurity officials face scrutiny

The Bush administration's top cybersecurity officials on Wednesday faced scrutiny from a House subcommittee on the continued lag in protecting the federal computer networks.

"I am still concerned that we are collectively not moving fast enough to protect the American people and the U.S. economy from very real threats exist today," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census. "Make no mistake. The threat is serious. The vulnerabilities are extensive. And the time for action is now."

Putnam said vulnerability management improvement should focus on prevention, detection and response. He vowed to seek more detailed guidance and enforcement of configuration management provisions of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), which provides a framework for federal information security management.

Putnam had entertained government intervention to bolster industry cybersecurity efforts, and said he remains "deeply concerned about the state of information security in the private sector." A second panel of industry representatives followed the government officials.

Karen Evans, administrator for electronic government and information technology at the White House Office of Management and Budget, discussed the "difficult challenge" facing federal chief information officers in confronting rising cyber threats. Evans said the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which was mandated by Congress in 2002 to develop security settings for each hardware or software system used by government, would maintain a Web-based portal and solicit setting recommendations "subject to available funds." NIST has been facing deep cuts in programs due to a budget cut by the White House.

Evans said for OMB's fiscal 2004 FISMA report, more detailed inventory reporting was required of agencies this year after incomplete inventories were submitted in 2003. Agencies also are being asked about patching of security vulnerabilities, she said. She said the Homeland Security Department's Computer Emergency Readiness Team reports that only a few agencies having improperly configured laptops were impacted by the recent attack of the Sasser worm.

Robert Dacey, director of information security issues at the General Accounting Office (GAO), provided highlights of a GAO report released at the event that found agencies are not consistently implementing common practices for effective management of patches.

Amit Yoran, director of the Homeland Security national cyber security division, outlined federal efforts, including the creation last fall of the Cyber Interagency Incident Management Group to improve government-wide response. He said the group meets regularly and involves officials with statutory authority over their agencies' resources and actions in response to incidents.

Another group, the Government Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams, consists of security-focused technologists working to bolster government-wide incident response, Yoran said. Homeland Security is developing a national response plan that will include a "cyber annex" outlining the government's processes for responding to a cyber attack, he said.

Also testifying were Dawn Meyerriecks, chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency, and Daniel Mehan, administrator for information services and chief information officer at the Federal Aviation Administration.