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.
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
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
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
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
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.