Federal Cyber-Security Professionals: We Can Do Better

Just 40 percent of federal cyber-security professionals are confident in their agency’s security

Alexandria, Va.Sept. 26, 2013MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government information technology (IT), announced the results of its new report, “FISMA Fallout: The State of the Union.” The report, underwritten by NetApp, examines the state of cyber security at federal agencies, and looks at whether the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is hurting or helping agencies improve cyber security and protect data. According to the report, federal cyber-security professionals lack confidence in FISMA, and do not believe their agencies’ current cyber-security solutions are sufficient and sustainable.

Federal agencies face cyber threats from every angle. In the past 12 months, agencies defended against insider threats or leaks (64 percent), non-state actors (60 percent) and state-sponsored threats (48 percent). Given the growing number and increasing sophistication of the attacks, just one in five (22 percent) cyber-security professionals rate their agency’s cyber-security solutions as sufficient and sustainable.

Although FISMA is designed to aid agencies in addressing these threats, it may be doing more harm than good. Just 53 percent of federal cyber-security professionals say FISMA improved security at their agency, while 86 percent report that FISMA compliance increases costs.

In addition, 28 percent view FISMA as encouraging compliance rather than risk identification and assessment, 21 percent believe it is insufficient in dealing with today’s cyber-threat landscape, and 11 percent believe it is an antiquated law.

“FISMA’s compliance model is not keeping up with the evolving security landscape or the security demands,” said Mark Weber, president of NetApp’s U.S. Public Sector. “There is a shift in the industry from compliance to continuous monitoring, and a vast number of new technologies exist to support this change. Our federal cyber professionals should be given the resources, regulation and management support to take advantage of these technologies to help thwart cyber-security attacks.”

Agencies’ current network speed and capacity limits also hinder security efforts. More than half of cyber-security professionals (55 percent) say their agency is either overloaded or cannot keep up with the amount of data already crossing their networks. The data deluge is not ending anytime soon—cyber-security professionals expect the total amount of data their agencies must protect to grow by 47 percent by 2015. As a result of the growing amount of data, cyber-security professionals say users experience slower network connections (35 percent), agencies experience challenges in handling large amounts of data in real time (32 percent), and the network and security-monitoring infrastructure cannot keep up with the network itself (18 percent).

Agencies may also be missing an opportunity to thwart attacks by not collecting and using data on previous breaches. Seventy-six percent of cyber-security professionals say their agency records all data that leaves their agency, but only 43 percent use that data to reconstruct the breach to determine where it took place. Twenty-one percent of cyber-security professionals say their agency is unable to track where a security breach took place.

As a result of security challenges, just 40 percent of cyber-security professionals are confident in their agency’s security. Those confident in their agency’s security are more likely to say their agency has an adequate budget (83 percent), their end users are compliant with cyber-security policies (80 percent), and their cyber-security department can identify and implement new cyber-security technology effectively (91 percent).

To improve security, federal cyber-security professionals are looking beyond FISMA. The majority of cyber-security professionals (83 percent) believe continuous monitoring can improve security at their agency. Most agencies (81 percent) have a system in place to continuously monitor their networks for cyber threats, but one in four lacks the capabilities and resources to effectively execute continuous monitoring.

To make agencies more secure, cyber-security professionals recommend more focus on evaluating risk, additional budget and technology, and better accountability regarding end-user unauthorized disclosure.

“FISMA Fallout: The State of the Union” is based on an online survey of 203 federal cyber-security professionals conducted in July 2013. The report has a margin of error of ±6.84 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. 

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