IT security officials share concerns

The increasing need to share information electronically is among the trends creating vulnerabilities, officials say.

Government chief information security officers offered examples of emerging security threats they most worry about during an Information Technology Association of America security workshop Tuesday.

Patrick Howard, CISO for the Housing and Urban Development Department, said as more improvements are made to secure the perimeters of systems, he worries about more attacks through applications -- especially Web applications.

"That concerns me mainly because of the push to e-government," Howard said. "Applications give a ready avenue to our data." He said in the rush to make information out, holes are built in and there is inadequate testing.

"You can't just patch this; this is custom code we're talking about," Howard said.

Both Joe Gerrity, CISO for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Michael Castagna, CISO for the Commerce Department, mentioned that the increasing need to share information electronically has created additional security issues.

"The need to know has shifted to the need to share," Gerrity said. "We tend to trust everyone on the inside and no one on the outside."

He said mechanisms are needed to better evaluate outside risks. He also is worried about people inside sharing information with those who seem like they are part of the data-sharing group.

Castagna said risks increase as organizational boundary lines get blurred. He said attackers would find an easy target by attacking at that blurred line as responsibility is blurred, too.

Patricia Titus, the Transportation Security Administration's CISO, said she is concerned about quantum computing that could "break encryption and all the things we're doing now protect data."

Later she noted obstacles to security because of the need to interact with outside entities and contractors, saying it is not realistic to issue government laptops to all of them. "I'd love it if corporations followed FISMA [the Federal Information Security Management Act] like we do," Titus said.

Treasury Department CISO Edward Roback said the threats to privacy and data that exist because of the declining cost of storage is a growing problem that makes his list.

He also is concerned about security impact of "outsourcing and outshoring" jobs. "It's continuing. It's accelerating," Roback said. "It's buried in software and in hardware customer service."

But his biggest worry, he said, is "the internal competency of people" He said it is a challenge to ensure that employees maintain competency in a world of outsourcing.

CISOs also shared ideas for how to get funding from their agencies to make security improvements. Roback said the good part of data-security breaches is they "focus the attention of senior management.

Titus advised others to present security investments to their bosses in terms of the cost of recovery from security breaches. "You really have to take your tech security hat off and put your business hat on," Titus said.

Howard said it helps to build cyber-security improvements into existing modernization efforts -- rather than a stand-alone budget item.