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Federal Cybersecurity Incidents Rocket 650% In 5 Years

As Obama administration declares October a time to focus on stopping cybersecurity threats, GAO releases a report indicating weaknesses.

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As the White House declares National Cybersecurity Awareness Month to shed a light on the issue, a federal watchdog report shows that cybersecurity incidents among federal agencies have dramatically risen in recent years.

Reports of security incidents among 24 key agencies increased more than 650% in the last five years, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office. The report cited persistent weaknesses in information security controls, due to incomplete implementation of security programs, for the disturbing increase in security problems.

At the same time, President Obama has deemed October a month in which the nation should pay special attention to the cybersecurity issues his administration has been working to combat.

"I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the importance of cybersecurity and to observe this month with activities, events, and trainings that will enhance our national security and resilience," Obama said in a proclamation about National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

[The feds are taking a new approach to fighting national security threats. Learn more: Homeland Security Revamps Cyber Arm.]

In the proclamation, Obama highlighted efforts the administration has made to bolster cybersecurity within the federal government and among businesses and private consumers.

One is the release of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, which aims to improve security for consumers conducting e-commerce by helping prevent fraud and identity theft and by making it easier for businesses to operate online.

Others include numerous partnerships with the private sector to bolster security for U.S. critical infrastructure, and the Department of Homeland Security's Stop. Think. Connect. campaign to raise people's Internet security awareness.

Still, the GAO report suggests that the administration's internal cybersecurity efforts may not be enough. Despite the agency and other federal inspectors making a number of security recommendations to agencies in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, cybersecurity incidents persist, according to the report.

The GAO cited weaknesses in how agencies are implementing security controls as a reason things don't appear to have improved. Specifically, agencies are not always making sure that personnel with significant responsibilities receive the proper training or that there is active monitoring of security controls.

Agencies also have not fixed weaknesses effectively nor have they resolved incidents "in a timely manner," according to the report.

The GAO also put some blame on the Office of Management and Budget for persistent cybersecurity incidents, saying that while they provided new cybersecurity metrics for agencies, they did not always provide performance target to measure improvements.

Despite the bleak news, the administration continues to hammer away at cybersecurity and has even recently taken more steps to force agencies to be more proactive in preventing incidents.

One new mandate that should bring better monitoring of agencies' cybersecurity postures is that agencies must begin reporting security data monthly to an online compliance tool called CyberScope as part of new fiscal year 2011 requirements for Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the standard for federal security implementation.

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Bprince
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Bprince,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2011 | 10:38:52 PM
re: Federal Cybersecurity Incidents Rocket 650% In 5 Years
No surprise here. The Obama administration has done a good job I think of pushing cyber-security issues into public discussion as it relates to the nation's IT infrastructure. Seems clear however we have a long way to go.
Brian Prince, InformationWeek contributor
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