DHS Beefs Up Cybersecurity Efforts With Monitoring, Authentication Tools

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Department of Homeland Security is increasing its cybersecurity presence by using continuous monitoring tools and improving verifying measures, said a top department official.

As part of its continuous diagnostics and monitoring program, DHS is tracking activity across its systems for anomalies and viruses, said Richard Spires, the department’s chief information officer.

“We were really moving aggressively as a government into this whole area of continuous monitoring, as we call it,” said Spires.

While the program is being implemented across DHS, it will also cover the entire dot.gov space, which DHS manages, Spires said at the Center for National Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank.

Continuous monitoring also allows for DHS to better gauge what products and services it needs to purchase. If one section of DHS owns more servers than it needs, continuous monitoring will be able to point that out and funds can be better allocated, Spires said. Transitioning to cloud computing could also assist with the effort, he said.

“You have all these servers out there, and when you do inventories, you find a lot of them are running at very low utilizations on average. We’ve still got to tackle that problem, and cloud computing helps us do that,” Spires said.

About $200 million was allocated for the program in a fiscal year 2013 budget request that went to Capitol Hill, Spires said.

Better education across the federal government is also needed, Spires said.

“With 200,000-plus employees, people are going to make mistakes. … How you deal with those also becomes a critical issue on cyber prevention,” said Spires. “DHS is taking this issue very, very seriously and really putting more and more resources in how do we better protect the homeland security enterprise and, in particular, critical infrastructure.”

DHS has also been implementing smart card authentication to obtain access to protected computers and areas, following instruction from the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 initiative. HSPD-12, released in 2004, called for federal employees and contractors to acquire secure, electronic identification.

“We all know that strong authentication — at least two-factor authentication — is a really critical aspect of good security today,” said Spires. “Within DHS, we’ve got nearly 100 percent of us that have these smart cards.”

When it comes to authenticating mobile devices, however, Spires said it is impractical to swipe the HSPD-12 card into a phone or tablet.

“We’re looking at things like derived credentials and how can we still do strong authentication in that particular environment.  This is an area that is not yet really mature from an industry perspective,” he said.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Topics: Cyber, Cybersecurity, Homeland Security, DHS Policy, Science and Technology

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