How We Collectively Can Improve Cyber Resilience

Post by Todd Weller, Dark Reading

Three steps you can take, based on Department of Homeland Security priorities.

At the 2019 RSA Conference earlier this year, Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), outlined several key priorities the agency is focused on for protecting US critical infrastructure. The US government is at the forefront when it comes to cybersecurity trends, so being aware of its focus can help private sector organizations improve cyber situational awareness and reduce risk.

Protecting Networks and Data from Nation-State Actors
CISA watches the usual suspects: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Its key focus here is supply chain risk and minimizing the government’s attack surface by keeping what it views to be risky vendors’ equipment and applications out of US critical infrastructure networks.

In 2018, the US government banned technology from Russia-based Kaspersky Labs. With a heavy focus on China and 5G, it is now heavily focused on Huawei. Overall, the government is concerned that technology equipment from perceived risky foreign vendors could be used for malicious purposes.

Another area of focus is foreign VPN applications and, specifically, China-based applications from Dolphin, Opera, and Yandex.

Collective Cyber Defense
Krebs also discussed the importance of “collective cyber defense.” A key issue here is that we can’t fight the cyber battle alone. He indicated that multiple stakeholders have some piece of information about what’s going on — whether that’s a specific threat; tactics, techniques, and procedures; and/or vulnerabilities. It is critical that threat information is shared in a timely and practical way, and it’s hard to get the maximum effect if this information is sitting in a limited number of hands.

On a broad basis, with collective cyber defense, CISA is refining its Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS) program to include more context and specificity in order to provide more value-added threat intelligence to the private sector. 

Election security is another area in which CISA is facilitating collective defense. CISA facilitated the signing up over 1,400 local jurisdictions to the recently formed Elections Infrastructure ISAC in just a nine-month period. CISA also facilitated the deployment of intrusion detection and prevention sensors, with these now covering 90% of elections infrastructure (based on votes cast), up from 32% in 2016.

Key Takeaways
Based on CISA’s focus, there are three key things that private sector organizations can do to improve their cyber operations:

1. Increase your focus on supply chain and third-party risk. Third-party risk is a key area in security, and many large security organizations have established dedicated organizations in this area. All organizations should make moves to assess and manage this risk. This includes risks related to technology platforms that are powering your business as well as risks related to the various third-party entities with which you do business.

2. Revisit some basics regarding attack surface reduction. One easy step is to limit the use of technology from “questionable” vendors. Revisit the “who” and “what” is on your network and “whether” they should be on there. For example, if you aren’t doing business with Russia, don’t allow traffic from Russia on your network. Of course, given the global nature of business and computing, that’s not that easy for many companies, but advanced filtering capabilities like dynamic whitelisting can allow you to block traffic from a country by default while allowing access from trusted sources, such as Office 365, Amazon Web Services, content delivery networks, etc.

3. Expand your usage of threat intelligence and information sharing to benefit from collective defense.Today’s cyber threat environment requires a broader view of attacker activity than any one entity or cybersecurity vendor can provide. Expanding your use of threat intelligence can improve your cyber situational awareness and reduce risk. Easy steps here range from incorporating high-quality open source threat intelligence sources to joining DHS’s AIS program to consuming and sharing threat information with industry peers through sharing communities (information-sharing and analysis centers and organizations).

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