Initial Thoughts on Digital Security Hearing

Several news outlets are reporting on the hearing I mentioned in my post When FISMA Bites. There following excerpts appear in Lawmakers decry continued vulnerability of federal computers:

The network intrusions at State and Commerce follow years of documented failure to comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), which requires agencies to maintain a complete inventory of network devices and systems. Government and industry officials at the hearing acknowledged a disconnect between FISMA's intent and effecting improved network security.

"The current system that provides letter grades seems to have no connection to actual security," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
(emphasis added)

WOW -- does Zoe Lofgren read my blog?

Some lawmakers are considering whether the Department of Homeland Security should be given primary responsibility for overseeing federal network security, but officials at DHS and elsewhere suggested that wouldn't be the best idea. Noting that DHS has not performed well on the annual FISMA report card and has not implemented all of the recommendations put forth for improved analysis and warning capabilities for attacks, Greg Wilshusen, director of information security issues at the Government Accountability Office, said it would be problematic from an organizational standpoint to put DHS in the position of compelling other agencies to comply.

I agree DHS is not in a position to defend the entire Federal government, but centralized network security is a good idea when skilled defenders are in short supply and high demand. It's clear that some agencies are not capable of defending themselves, while others do a better job. Perhaps a "center of excellence" model might work, where an agency with a very good monitoring team might watch the entire network. Another agency with a very good red team might assess the whole network, and so on.

Further news about the State intrusion appears in Response to May-July 2006 Cyber Intrusion on Department of State Computer Network and State Department got mail -- and hackers.

It's important to note that State was compromised by a zero-day, and a patch from Microsoft took eight weeks to be appear.

The article Intruders infect 33 US government computers with Trojans talks about a compromise an the Department of Commerce:

[T]he cyberintrusion affecting the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security systems was first noticed last July, when a Bureau of Industry and Security deputy under secretary reported being locked out of his computer. An investigation showed that the system had been compromised and someone had installed malicious code on it that was causing it to make unauthorised attempts to access another computer on the bureau's network...

Investigations also showed that the infected system had attempted to access two external IP address[es] after business hours when the computer was no longer being used...

Over the next 10 days or so, investigators at Bureau of Industry and Security noticed about 10 other computers making similar attempts to connect with suspicious IP addresses. By 18 August, 32 the bureau systems and one non-bureau system had tried to communicate with at least 11 suspicious IP addresses...

To date, an analysis of the forensic data has shown no evidence that information was actually stolen, despite the compromises, Jarrell said. At the same time, it remains unclear just when the first breach occurred or for how long intruders might have had access to the Bureau’s systems.

That's interesting. The initial incident is found through non-technical means ("Hey, my PC no workie!") but extrusion detection would have noticed the outbound connections. If BIS had been collecting session data they would have known when the first attempt to access those external IPs occurred, thereby helping to scope the incident.


C.S.Lee said…

If BIS had been collecting session data they would have known when the first attempt to access those external IPs occurred

I definitely agree on this part, it's the most important piece when your IDS/IPS fails.
Anonymous said…
Remember, it all depends if there is a default route for internet traffic that is monitored going outbound. Secondly, don't forget about lateral movements within a network which is very problematic these days. Not too mention audit log data retention. The good news is it was caught via accout lockouts occuring in the middle of the night and op security took action.

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