- Kelly Jackson Higgins - US Government Cybersecurity at a Crossroads

Trump reportedly kills coordinator position, while meantime many agencies continue to catch-up in their defenses.

Amid a report today that the Trump White House plans to cut the administration’s cybersecurity coordinator position altogether, new how US federal government agencies continue to struggle to close holes in their software.

Politico reported that the administration has eliminated the White House cybersecurity position, which was recently vacated by former head Rob Joyce, who has returned to the National Security Agency. Politico said it had obtained an email to the White House National Security Council staff from John Bolton aide Christine Samuelian: “The role of cyber coordinator will end,” in an effort to “streamline authority” in the NSC, which includes two senior cybersecurity directors, she said in the email, according to Politico.

As of this posting, there was no official word from the White House. But Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tweeted in response to the news report:

“Mr. President, if you really want to put America first, don’t cut the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator — the only person in the federal government tasked with delivering a coordinated, whole-of-government response to the growing cyber threats facing our nation.”

According to the US Department of Homeland Security in its newly published cybersecurity strategy released today, cyber incidents reported to the DHS by federal agencies increased more than tenfold between 2006 and 2015, culminating in the Office of Personnel in 2015 that compromised personal data of 4 million employees and overall, 22 million people.

App Gap

So how are the feds doing security-wise to date? New software scan data from Veracode reflects a major element of security challenges for federal agencies: secure software. The scan data shows that federal agencies have the least secure applications of all industry sectors, with nearly half sporting cross-site scripting (XSS) flaws; 32%, SQL injection; and 48%, cryptographic flaws.

Unlike most industries, just 4% of federal apps are scanned weekly, 21% monthly, 24% quarterly, and about half, less than quarterly, Veracode found.

In the first scan of an app, there were 103.36 flaws per megabyte of code.

“How often a customer is testing an app gives us an where they are” waterfall to DevOps-wise, says Chris Wysopal, CTO and co-founder of Veracode, which only handles nonclassified apps for the feds. With 4% of apps tested weekly by agencies, “that tells us there’s a not a lot of DevOps or Agile going on,” Wysopal says.

Wysopal notes that the government has challenges that other industries do not. The technology sector not surprisingly fared best in Veracode’s security scans. “They are culturally completely different: technology is focused on building … process, tooling, languages and DevOps and automating things,” Wysopal says. “We see them building security in as part of the process of developing their software.”

Government, on the other hand, approaches software development more from an audit perspective, he says. “There’s room for improvement.”

Agencies tend to run older systems for longer periods of time, mainly due to long procurement processes and budget constraints, for instance. “The biggest determinant of whether software has vulnerabilities is how old it is,” he says.

Even with the relatively dire data, it’s from agencies who are being proactive in their application security by opting for a scanning service, he notes. “Our data is slightly rosy” in that context of the government sector, he says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise … View Full Bio

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