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4/5/2012
12:18 PM
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State Department CIO: What's Changed Since WikiLeaks

State Department IT chief talks strategy and cybersecurity upgrades, 18 months after the leak of 260,000 sensitive diplomatic cables.

Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progres
Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progress
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Eighteen months after its diplomatic cables were exposed in the WikiLeaks breach, the State Department continues to lock down its confidential information, while using the Internet and social media to further its work in other ways.

State Department CIO Susan Swart, in an interview with InformationWeek at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters, outlined steps underway to prevent any further data leaks. "The State Department has continued to enhance the security of our classified data and systems post-WikiLeaks," she said, adding that the department is playing a lead role in the interagency response to WikiLeaks that was launched last year by Presidential order.

The agency is deploying new security technology in the wake of WikiLeaks. That includes auditing and monitoring tools to detect anomalous activity on the State Department's classified networks and systems, which it's using to "aggressively address" any abnormal behavior, Swart said. State has also begun tagging information with metadata to enable role-based access to those who need it, and is planning to implement public key infrastructure on its classified systems by the summer of 2014.

[ Is there reason for optimism when it comes to leaner, more consolidated federal IT? Read more at Agile Government: Elusive, But Not Impossible (Really). ]

In the wake of the WikiLeaks breach, which occurred in November 2010, the State Department suspended outside access to several of its classified information portals. Those portals--including the Net Centric Diplomacy diplomatic reporting database, ClassNet classified websites, and some SharePoint sites--remain largely inaccessible or subject to restricted access from other networks, including the military's classified network known as SIPRNET.

Army private Bradley Manning is accused of, among other things, allegedly copying files containing the diplomatic cables onto a recordable CD and then leaking them to WikiLeaks. At the time, the State Department already had a policy in place that restricted use of removable media such as USB drives and CDs. Following the breach, the agency updated that policy and reemphasized to employees a waiver process required for employees to use removable media for any purpose. The agency has also improved its cybersecurity training.

Attention to cybersecurity now accounts for a significant portion of Swart's day, she says. The agency has put greater emphasis on sharing of cybersecurity information with other federal agencies, and it's working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency on cybersecurity issues. Those agencies have taken on stronger cross-government cybersecurity roles in the last few years.

The State Department lost its chief information security officer in January when John Streufert left to become director of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Division. Swart, who was promoted from deputy CIO four years ago, said that Streufert's move has strengthened State's own cybersecurity posture by putting an advocate within DHS. The department is looking for a successor to Streufert.

In addition to cybersecurity, the State Department's other tech priorities include IT consolidation, mobility, social media, cloud computing, and improved IT governance. The agency is also analyzing the tech tools that are available to diplomats and what more may be needed.

Those will all have to be carried out within the context of a lower IT budget. The White House's proposed budget for fiscal 2013 would decrease IT spending at State by 4.8%, to $1.35 billion.

One high priority is to consolidate the foreign affairs community onto a common network, known as the Foreign Affairs Network. The State Department is currently migrating the U.S. Agency for International Development to the network.

Like other federal agencies, the State Department is consolidating data centers. In the United States, it's going from 14 data centers to four, while classified processing from overseas offices is being done in a handful of regional sites.

With data center consolidation comes private cloud computing, and in particular, infrastructure-as-a-service. Swart said that the agency is still working through the details, such as how it will charge users for the services. Some of the agency's websites are running on public cloud platforms, but Swart said most of its core applications won't be moved to public cloud services for the foreseeable future, given the security and contracting issues involved.

"Technical security is one part of the reason, but there are a lot of other complexities in the cloud," Swart said. "Contractually, for example, there's the issue of how we would move from one service to another, how we would move from the cloud back to on-premises. We are taking a conservative stance, letting other agencies do the heavy work to start, and we're looking to see how that goes."

Mobility is another area of focus. While the State Department still relies mostly on Blackberrys as its enterprise-issued devices, it has begun supporting other devices. Any mobile device that can use the Citrix Receiver virtualization client--a client that can be installed on most of the latest mobile platforms--can now access the department's networks over a secure channel. The agency is developing a broader mobile application strategy.

Under its eDiplomacy initiative, the State Department is ramping up its use of social media and the Internet for diplomacy and operations, and currently has 150 employees dedicated to the eDiplomacy mission using the Web and other new communications technologies to further the State Department's international relations efforts.

Examples of the dozens of eDiplomacy projects underway include State Department presence on multiple public social networks, external blogs like DipNote, the internal blogging community site Communities @ State, the Sounding Board e-suggestion box, a wiki-based collaborative encyclopedia on diplomatic affairs called Diplopedia that's modeled ultimately on Wikipedia, and internships where college students intern virtually over the Internet with State Department offices.

"This is about trying a lot of things and seeing what sticks," Swart said. "This is not traditionally what we have done, but [the Office of eDiplomacy has] had a lot of success because they have shown that we can do these things and become a more effective agency." Social media is gaining traction within the agency. Diplopedia, for example, is now referenced in diplomatic cables as a source of information and had seen almost 200,000 page edits as of October 2011.

Attend InformationWeek's IT Government Leadership Forum, a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in government come together to discuss how they're using technology to drive change in federal departments and agencies. It happens in Washington, D.C., May 3.

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Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/6/2012 | 9:31:39 PM
re: State Department CIO: What's Changed Since WikiLeaks
Kudos on taking steps to make things secure, but is this closing the barn door after the cow's already left town?

For example, let's consider that the WikiLeaks incident didn't happen and that these cables were leaked and publicized at a very slow rate. Rather than dumping a huge pile at one time, maybe 2-3 a week or even a month - as in a very slow leakage of information. Would that have warranted this kind of reaction?

In some twisted viewpoint, WikiLeaks may have been one of the best things to happen to the Federal CIOs in that it caused everyone, from the top down, to focus on security to prevent it from ever happening again. My contention is that it should have never happened in the first place.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
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