Report finds progress in cybersecurity in private sector

Representatives from more than a dozen critical infrastructure sectors of the economy, including telecommunications, transportation and electric power, this week plan to deliver to the White House a status report on the private sector's progress in beefing up cybersecurity.

Their findings: Many companies have made significant progress during the past year to protect their infrastructures from attack, but others still face an uphill battle.

The closely guarded report, produced by members of the National Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, will be used as a basis for the next version of the Clinton administration's plan outlining how the government and private firms must work together to bolster cybersecurity. The NPCIS is a joint effort between federal agencies and the private sector.

Officials said the banking and energy industries remain ahead of many other sectors in security preparedness. Other sectors, including telecommunications, transportation and waterways, face difficult challenges stemming from a vast array of factors such as deregulation and market fluctuations.

Ken Watson, co-chairman of the coordinating committee of the NPCIS acknowledged that progress hasn't proceeded at the same pace in all sectors.

"I have talked personally to the sector coordinators, and they are all working feverishly at this," said Watson, who's also manager of critical-infrastructure protection at Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose. "There are some sectors that are ahead of others. However, we accept the challenge that the government has given us to protect the networks that run our infrastructure."

One indicator of progress is the pending announcement of an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) for the IT community, similar to the ISAC that already exists for the financial services sector. The ISAC offers a secure database, analytic tools and other software that allow officials to submit reports about information security threats, vulnerabilities, incidents and solutions.

Addressing obstacles

Tim Atkins, a member of an NPCIS working group, said the IT sector has been moving very aggressively. Any perceived slowness is due to a genuine desire by industry to protect proprietary and sensitive information on behalf of their companies, their shareholders and their clients, said Atkins, who is director of critical infrastructure protection at consulting firm SRA International Inc. in Fairfax, Va.

Thomas R. Horton, chairman of the National Association of Corporate Directors and a participant in several recent critical-infrastructure protection summit meetings, said corporate concerns regarding shareholder value and increased competition may be getting in the way of security progress at some banks, airlines and telecommunications companies.

Despite the banking industry's perceived success in the area of security, a recent spate of money laundering schemes in the banking industry, including a $1.4 billion scam against Citigroup Inc. and Commercial Bank of San Francisco that lasted nine years, raises serious questions about the status of security in the industry, said Horton.

Likewise, the airline and telecommunications sectors have come "under siege" as a result of deregulation and the current climate of mergers and acquisitions, said Horton. A senior White House official said yeaars of a "systematic underinvestment in [electric power] grid capacity," combined with the effects of wholesale deregulation, has created a "potentially perilous [security] situation."

But two CIOs from the natural gas and electric industries said that security protections against cyberattacks in their industries are being addressed constantly, although the national effort lacks a useful gauge for how much security is enough.

"If you don't have any attacks, it's easy to let the program slip," said Jon Arnold, CIO at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, a trade association that represents 100 investor-owned electric utilities.

What's it all for?

Gary Gardner, CIO at the American Gas Association in Washington, said he sometimes wonders what the industry gets in return for its cooperation with the government. "To some extent, I don't know what sharing all this information achieves for us, which is what the oil industry has said as well," said Gardner, adding that FBI warnings on the "I Love You" virus didn't arrive until two hours after it hit his company's offices.

Bruce Freeman, CIO at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) in Fort Worth, Texas, said his company became concerned about infrastructure security four years ago, partly because a security consultant was able to persuade 97 out of 100 BNSF employees to divulge their system passwords and user IDs.

Freeman said the railroad immediately entered into an aggressive training campaign to educate employees to be more secure. He said the company also beefed up its infrastructure security.

Gene Gorzelnik, a spokesman for the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) in Princeton, N.J., said all the sectors are making progress, but admittedly at different speeds. "You can't build something from nothing overnight," he said.

The NERC is presenting written recommendations for the Clinton plan.

Linda Rosencrance contributed to this story.

This story, "Report finds progress in cybersecurity in private sector" was originally published by Computerworld.

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