Department of Energy

Department of Energy: CyberSprinting Backwards

Earlier this week, I noted that of the seven agencies that would automatically get cybersecurity data shared under the Cyber Information Sharing Act, several had similar or even worse cyberpreparedness than the Office of Personnel Management, from which China stole entire databases of information on our cleared personnel.

To make that argument, I used data from the FISMA report released in February. Since then — or rather, since the revelation of the OPM hack — the Administration has been pushing a “30 day sprint” to try to close the gaping holes in our security.

Yesterday, the government’s Chief Information Officer, Tony Scott, released a blog post and the actual results, bragging about significant improvement.

And there have been significant results (though note, the 30 day sprint turned into a 60 day middle distance run), particularly from OPM, Interior (which hosted OPM’s databases), and — two of those CISA data sharing agencies — DHS and Treasury.

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Whoa! Check out that spike! Congratulations to those who worked hard to make this improvement.

But when you look at the underlying data, things aren’t so rosy.

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We are apparently supposed to be thrilled that DOD now requires strong authentication for 58% of its privileged users (people like Edward Snowden), up 20% from the earlier 38%. Far more of DOD’s unprivileged users (people like Chelsea Manning?) — 83% — are required to use strong authentication, but that number declined from a previous 88%.

More remarkable, however, is that during a 30 day 60 day sprint to plug major holes, the Department of Energy also backslid, with strong authentication going from 34% to 11%. Admittedly, more of DoE’s privileged users must use strong authentication, but only 13% total.

DOJ (at least FBI and probably through them other parts of DOJ will receive this CISA information), too, backslid overall, though with a huge improvement for privileged users. And Commerce (another CISA recipient agency) also had a small regression for privileged users.

There may be explanations for this, such as that someone is being moved from a less effective two-factor program to a better one.

But it does trouble me that an agency as central to our national security as Department of Energy is regressing even during a period of concerted focus.

Yet Another Edition of “You Were Warned”

Dear unnamed power company/ies: Thank you for providing me an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos.


You were warned about the possibility of security threats to your systems. Repeatedly–the video above is just one such warning. What’s it take to get through to you–a clue-by-four alongside the head? A massive, lengthy power outage you can’t resolve for days or weeks, with consumers calling for managements’ heads on pikes? A complete tank of your company’s stock value? The Department of Energy on your doorstep, taking possession of your site as it investigates you?

I love this part at 32:28 into the video where Ralf Langer says,

“…many things we thought about cyberwarfare earlier just were proven wrong. …”

Everything you thought you knew about infosec/cybersecurity needs to be revisited. The assumptions you’ve been using are clearly wrong.

Now get a frigging clue and revisit your security policies. STAT. You can start with checking these:

— No USB or other external media which have not been deeply screened for infection.

— External network connections to production equipment are to be avoided at all costs. Connections between corporate business and the power grid should be closed, dedicated network. Revisiting appropriateness of traditional isolation of production networks might be worthwhile.

— No third-party contractors permitted on site that do not comply completely with power company security policies, including spot inspections. (You do spot inspections, right? Contractors are screened coming in and out of facilities, right?)

What are you doing here, reading this? Get to work. RUN.

Dear U.S. Department of Energy: Um, hello? Did your brains’ functions suffer irreparable damage from exposure to BP’s dispersants?

It’s the only excuse I can think of as to why security measures and subsequent audits of the nation’s power grid for infections and intrusions from network and external devices haven’t removed these threats.

By the way, this 2009 document making suggestions to power companies about security measures is now out of date and needs to be revisited, in light of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s authorization of cyber weapon deployment and subsequent blowback risk, let alone the case of USB devices laden with crimeware.

Dear Fellow Americans: I really hate feeling like Cassandra. I’d love to see the power industry and our government prove me wrong by preventing outages related to security breaches about which they’ve been warned. At the rate they’re going, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick, without electricity to read my anticipated future post which I expect to entitle, “I told you so.”

You might want to contact your government representatives and ask them what they know about power grid security and if they’ve actually done anything to investigate the safety of power in their district. If their understanding is shaped by the Department of Energy’s latency, they need to be brought up to speed and pronto. Don’t wait until you don’t have the juice to read my next post on this topic.