Index

Critical Infrastructure Protection: Comments on the Proposed Cyber
Security Information Act of 2000 (Testimony, 06/22/2000,
GAO/T-AIMD-00-229).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the proposed Cyber
Security Information Act of 2000 (H.R. 4246), focusing on how it can
enhance critical infrastructure protection and the formidable challenges
involved with achieving the goals of the bill.

GAO noted that: (1) by removing key barriers that are precluding private
industry from sharing information about infrastructure threats and
vulnerabilities, H.R. 4246 can help build the meaningful private-public
partnerships that are integral to protecting critical infrastructure
assets; (2) however, to successfully engage the private sector, the
federal government itself must be a model of good information security;
(3) currently, it is not; (4) significant computer security
weaknesses--ranging from poor controls over access to sensitive systems
and data, to poor control over software development and changes, to
nonexistent or weak continuity of service plans--pervade virtually every
major agency; (5) and, as illustrated by the recent ILOVEYOU computer
virus, mechanisms already in place to facilitate information sharing
among federal agencies about impeding threats and vulnerabilities have
not been working effectively; and (6) moreover, the federal government
may not yet have the right tools for identifying, analyzing,
coordinating, and disseminating the type of information that H.R. 4246
envisions collecting from the private sector.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-AIMD-00-229
     TITLE:  Critical Infrastructure Protection: Comments on the
	     Proposed Cyber Security Information Act of 2000
      DATE:  06/22/2000
   SUBJECT:  Computer security
	     Information systems
	     Data collection
	     Internal controls
	     Proposed legislation
	     Joint ventures
	     Interagency relations
	     Private sector
	     Information resources management
IDENTIFIER:  ILOVEYOU Computer Virus
	     Y2K
	     NIST Federal Computer Incident Response Capability Program

******************************************************************
** This file contains an ASCII representation of the text of a  **
** GAO Testimony.                                               **
**                                                              **
** No attempt has been made to display graphic images, although **
** figure captions are reproduced.  Tables are included, but    **
** may not resemble those in the printed version.               **
**                                                              **
** Please see the PDF (Portable Document Format) file, when     **
** available, for a complete electronic file of the printed     **
** document's contents.                                         **
**                                                              **
******************************************************************
GAO/T-AIMD-00-229

   * For Release on Delivery
     Expected at
     10 a.m.

Thursday,

June 22, 2000

GAO/T-AIMD-00-229

critical infrastructure protection

Comments on the Proposed Cyber Security Information Act of 2000

        Statement of Joel C. Willemssen

Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems

Accounting and Information Management Division

Testimony

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and
Technology, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives

United States General Accounting Office

GAO

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the proposed Cyber Security
Information Act of 2000 (H.R. 4246), which is intended to remove barriers to
information sharing between government and private industry in order to
better address threats to the nation's critical infrastructure.

The concern over cyber threats is well placed. While the explosive growth in
interconnectivity has contributed immeasurably to the nation's economy and
well being, it also presents significant risks to our nation's computer
systems and to the critical operations and infrastructures they support,
including telecommunications, finance, power distribution, emergency
services, law enforcement, national defense, and other government services.
Accordingly, government officials are increasingly concerned about attacks
from individuals and groups with malicious intentions, such as terrorists
and nations engaging in information warfare. Nevertheless, because the
federal government does not own all of our nation's critical
infrastructures, it is limited in what it can do to protect these assets,
and solutions must be tailored sector by sector, through partnerships with
sector representatives that address threats, vulnerabilities, and possible
response strategies.

Today, I will discuss how H.R. 4246 can enhance critical infrastructure
protection and the formidable challenges involved with achieving the goals
of the bill. In short, by removing key barriers that are precluding private
industry from sharing information about infrastructure threats and
vulnerabilities, H.R. 4246 can help build the meaningful private-public
partnerships that are integral to protecting critical infrastructure assets.
However, to successfully engage the private sector, the federal government
itself must be a model of good information security. Currently, it is not.
Significant computer security weaknesses-ranging from poor controls over
access to sensitive systems and data, to poor control over software
development and changes, to nonexistent or weak continuity of service
plans-pervade virtually every major agency. And, as illustrated by the
recent ILOVEYOU computer virus, mechanisms already in place to facilitate
information sharing among federal agencies about impending threats and
vulnerabilities have not been working effectively. Moreover, the federal
government may not yet have the right tools for identifying, analyzing,
coordinating, and disseminating the type of information that H.R. 4246
envisions collecting from the private sector.

Concerns About Risks to Our Critical Infrastructure Are Growing

Before discussing the specifics of H.R. 4246, I would like to provide an
overview of the risks of severe disruption facing our nation's critical
infrastructure and the steps being taking to address these risks. In
particular, the explosive growth in computer interconnectivity over the past
10 years has significantly increased the risk that vulnerabilities exploited
within one system will affect other connected systems. Massive computer
networks now provide pathways among systems that if not properly secured,
can be used to gain unauthorized access to data and operations from remote
locations. While the threats or sources of these problems can include
natural disasters, such as earthquakes, and system-induced problems, such as
the Year 2000 (Y2K) date conversion problem, government officials are
increasingly concerned about attacks from individuals and groups with
malicious intentions, such as terrorists and nations engaging in information
warfare.

The resulting damage can vary, depending on the threat. Critical operations
can be disrupted or otherwise sabotaged, sensitive data can be read and
copied, and data or processes can be tampered with. A significant concern is
that terrorists or hostile foreign states could launch computer-based
attacks on critical systems, such as those supporting energy distribution,
telecommunications, and financial services, to severely damage or disrupt
our national defense or other operations, resulting in harm to the public
welfare. Understanding these risks to our computer-based infrastructures and
determining how best to mitigate them are major information security
challenges.

The federal government is beginning to take steps to address those
challenges. In 1996, the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure
Protection was established to investigate our nation's vulnerability to both
cyber and physical threats. In its October 1997 report, Critical
Foundations: Protecting America's Infrastructures, the Commission described
the potential devastating implications of poor information security from a
national perspective.

In May 1998, Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD 63) was issued in
response to this report and recognized that addressing computer-based risks
to our nation's critical infrastructures required a new approach that
involves coordination and cooperation across federal agencies and among
public- and private-sector entities and other nations. PDD 63 created
several new entities for developing and implementing a strategy for critical
infrastructure protection. In addition, it tasked federal agencies with
developing critical infrastructure protection plans and establishing related
links with private industry sectors. Since then, a variety of activities
have been undertaken, including development and review of individual agency
critical infrastructure protection plans, identification and evaluation of
information security standards and best practices, and efforts to build
communication links with the private sector.

In January 2000, the White House released its National Plan for Information
Systems Protection as a first major element of a more comprehensive effort
to protect the nation's information systems and critical assets from future
attacks. This plan focuses largely on federal efforts being undertaken to
protect the nation's critical cyber-based infrastructures. Subsequent plans
are to address a broader range of concerns, including the specific roles
industry and state and local governments will play in protecting physical
and cyber-based infrastructures from deliberate attacks as well as
international aspects of critical infrastructure protection. The end goal of
this process is to develop a comprehensive national strategy for critical
infrastructure assurance, as envisioned by PDD 63, and to have this plan
fully operational in 2003.

The plan proposes achieving its twin goals of making the U.S. government a
model of information security and developing public-private partnerships to
defend our national infrastructure through 10 programs listed in figure 1.

Figure 1: Programs Identified in the National Plan for Information Systems
Protection

The program involving sharing attack warning and information specifically
seeks to bolster information exchange efforts with the private sector. In
particular, the program aims to establish a Partnership for Critical
Infrastructure Security and a National Infrastructure Assurance Council to
increase corporate and government communications about shared threats to
critical information systems. It also encourages the creation of Information
Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISAC) to facilitate public-private sector
information sharing about actual threats and vulnerabilities in individual
infrastructure sectors. Two ISACs are already in operation: (1) the
Financial Services ISAC, which exclusively serves the banking, securities,
and insurance industries, and (2) the National Coordinating Center for
Telecommunications, which is a joint industry/government organization.
Several more ISACs are expected to be established by the end of the year.

H.R. 4246 and Its Potential Benefits for Critical Infrastructure Protection

Partnerships such as the ISACs are central to addressing critical
infrastructure protection. However, some in the private sector have
expressed concerns about voluntarily sharing information with the
government. For example, concerns have been raised that industry could
potentially face antitrust violations for sharing information with other
industry partners, have their information be subject to the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA), or face potential liability concerns for information
shared in good faith.

H.R. 4246 was introduced on April 12, 2000, with the aim of addressing these
concerns and encouraging the secure disclosure and exchange of information
about cyber security problems and solutions. In many respects, the bill is
modeled after the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act, which
provided limited exemptions and protections for the private sector in order
to facilitate the sharing on information on Y2K readiness. In particular,
H.R. 4246:

   * protects information being provided by the private sector from
     disclosure by federal entities under FOIA or disclosure to or by any
     third party,
   * prohibits the use of the information by any federal and state
     organization or any third party in any civil actions, and
   * enables the President to establish and terminate working groups
     composed of federal employees for the purposes of engaging outside
     organizations in discuss to address and share information about cyber
     security.

In essence, the bill seeks to enable the federal government to ask industry
questions about events or incidents threatening critical infrastructures,
correlate them at a national level in order to build a baseline
understanding of infrastructures, and use these baselines to identify
anomalies and attacks-something it is not doing now.

Addressing similar concerns proved valuable in addressing the Y2K problem.
Although Y2K was a unique and finite challenge, it parallels the critical
infrastructure challenge in some important respects. Like critical
infrastructure protection, for instance, Y2K spanned the entire spectrum of
our national, as well as the global, economy. Moreover, given the scores of
interdependencies among private sector companies, state and local
governments, and the federal government, a single failure in one system
could have repercussions on an array of public and private enterprises. As a
result, public/private information sharing was absolutely essential to
ensuring compliance in supply chain relationships and reducing the amount of
Y2K work.

Early on, Y2K information bottlenecks were widespread in the private sector.
According to the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, antitrust
issues and a natural tendency to compete for advantage made working together
on Y2K difficult, if not inconceivable, for many companies. Moreover, the
threat of lawsuits had companies worried that they would be held liable for
anything they said about the Y2K compliance of products or devices they used
or test processes and results for them. Legal considerations also prevented
companies from saying anything about their own readiness for date change.
Thus, as noted by the council, their business partners, as well as the
general public, may have assumed the worst.

According to the council, the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure
Act paved the way for more disclosures about Y2K readiness and experiences
with individual products and fixes. Several major telecommunications
companies, for example, indicated their willingness to share Y2K information
with smaller companies who contacted them. And the leaders of the electric
power industry began a series of regional conferences for local distribution
companies in which they discussed identified problems and solutions,
particularly with embedded chips, as well as testing protocols and
contingency planning.

Moreover, the act helped facilitate the work of the more than 25
sector-based working groups established by the council and other outreach
activities. For example, the council and federal agencies were able to
establish partnerships with several private-sector organizations, such as
the North American Electric Reliability Council, to gather information
critical to the nation's Y2K efforts and to address issues such as
contingency planning. Concerned about the lack of information in some key
industry areas, the council also convened a series of roundtable meetings in
the spring and summer of 1999, which helped to shed light on the status of
readiness efforts relating to pharmaceuticals, food, hospital supplies,
transit, public safety, the Internet, education, and chemicals. The
assessment reports resulting from these and other activities substantially
increased the nation's understanding of the Y2K readiness of key industries.

Removing barriers to information sharing between government and industry can
similarly enhance critical infrastructure protection. Both government and
industry are key components of the infrastructure, both are potential
targets for cyber threats, and both face significant gaps in effectively
dealing with the threats. As such, both must work together to identify
threats and vulnerabilities and to develop response strategies. In
particular, by combining information concerning the type of incidents and
attacks experienced with the information obtained through federal
intelligence and law enforcement sources, the government can develop and
share more informative warnings and advisories. In turn, companies can
develop a better understanding of the threats facing their particular
infrastructures and be better prepared to take appropriate actions to
protect their sectors.

Challenges in Building Public/Private Partnerships

First, while information sharing is important, the government needs to be
sure that it is collecting the right type of information, that it can
effectively synthesize and analyze it, and that it can appropriately share
its analysis. A significant amount of work still needs to be done just in
terms of ensuring that the right type of information is collected. For
example, what information is required that will enable the government to
detect a nationally significant cyber attack? Will information on
intrusions, software anomalies, or reports of significant system failures
provide an accurate baseline for making these determinations? Today,
officials in the intelligence community do not know with real certainty what
constitutes a cyber attack. Further, a 1996 Defense Science Board report
stressed that understanding the information warfare process and indications
of information warfare attacks will likely require an unprecedented effort
to collect, consolidate, and synthesize data from a range of owners of
infrastructure assets. The ISACs being established to facilitate
public-private sector information sharing can assist in meeting this
challenge. However, as noted earlier, only two ISACS are in operation and
proposals regarding these centers are presented only in broad terms in the
administration's preliminary National Plan for Information Systems
Protection.

Once the government is sure that it is asking for the right type of
information, it will need effective mechanisms for collecting and analyzing
it. Building a common operational picture of critical infrastructures and
determining if an attack is underway requires the government to develop
capabilities to quickly and accurately correlate information from different
infrastructures and reports of security incidents. This is a complex and
challenging task in itself. Data on possible threats-ranging from viruses,
to hoaxes, to random threats, to news events, and computer intrusions-must
be continually collected and analyzed from a wide spectrum of globally
distributed sources in addition to sector-based groups. Nevertheless, fusing
the right information from the public and private sectors in an operational
setting is essential to detecting, warning, and responding to
information-based attacks.

The National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), located in the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, is charged with this mission, but it is not clear
whether NIPC has the right tools and resources needed to successfully
coordinate information collection efforts with the private sector and to
effectively correlate and analyze information received. We are currently
engaged in an effort to review this capability.

In addition to collecting and analyzing data, the federal government needs
to be able to effectively share information about infrastructure threats.
Again, NIPC is charged with this responsibility and we are also reviewing
its capability with respect to this issue. But, already, results in this
area have been mixed. In December 1999, NIPC provided early warnings about a
rash of denial-of-service attacks prominently on its website-2 months before
the attack arrived in full force-and offered a tool that could be downloaded
to scan for the presence of the denial of service code.

However, as we recently testified, NIPC had less success with the ILOVEYOU
virus. NIPC first learned of the virus at 5:45 a.m. EDT from an industry
source, yet it did not issue an alert about the virus on its own web page
until 11 a.m.-hours after many federal agencies were reportedly hit. This
notice was a brief advisory; NIPC did not offer advice on dealing with the
virus until 10 p.m. that evening. The lack of a more effective early warning
clearly affected most federal agencies. Only 7 of 20 we contacted were
spared widespread infection, which resulted in slowing some agency
operations and requiring the diversion of technical staff toward stemming
the virus' spread and cleaning "infected" computers. Moreover, NIPC did not
directly warn the financial services ISAC about the impending threat.

The second challenge to realizing the goals of H.R. 4246 is that, to truly
engage the private sector, the federal government needs to be a model for
computer security. Currently, the federal government is not a model. As
emphasized in the National Plan for Information Systems Protection, the
federal government specifically needs to be able to demonstrate that it can
protect its own critical assets from cyber attack as well as lead research
and development and educational efforts in the field of computer security.
However, audits conducted by GAO and agency inspectors general show that 22
of the largest federal agencies have significant computer security
weaknesses, ranging from poor controls over access to sensitive systems and
data, to poor control over software development and changes, to nonexistent
or weak continuity of service plans.

Importantly, our audits have repeatedly identified serious deficiencies in
the most basic controls over access to federal systems. For example,
managers often provided overly broad access privileges to very large groups
of users, affording far more individuals than necessary the ability to
browse, and sometimes modify or delete, sensitive or critical information.
In addition, access was often not appropriately authorized or documented;
users often shared accounts and passwords or posted passwords in plain view;
software access controls were improperly implemented; and user activity was
not adequately monitored to deter and identify inappropriate actions.

While a number of factors have contributed to weak federal information
security, such as insufficient understanding of risks, technical staff
shortages, and a lack of system and security architectures, the fundamental
underlying problem is poor security program management. Agencies have not
established the basic management framework needed to effectively protect
their systems. Based on our 1998 study of organizations with superior
security programs, this involves managing information security risks through
a cycle of risk management activities that include (1) assessing risk and
determining protection needs,
(2) selecting and implementing cost-effective policies and controls to meet
these needs, (3) promoting awareness of policies and controls and of the
risks that prompted their adoption, and (4) implementing a program of
routine tests and examinations for evaluating the effectiveness of policies
and related controls. Additionally, a strong central focal point can help
ensure that the major elements of the risk management cycle are carried out
and can serve as a communications link among organizational units.

I would also like to emphasize that while individual agencies bear primary
responsibility for the information security associated with their own
operations and assets, there are several areas where governmentwide criteria
and requirements also need to be strengthened. Specifically, there is a need
for routine periodic independent audits of agency security programs to
provide a basis for measuring agency performance and information for
strengthened oversight. As we recently testified, a bill has been introduced
in the Senate this year-the Proposed Government Information Security Act (S.
1993)-which provides a requirement for such audits. There is also a need for

   * more prescriptive guidance regarding the level of protection that is
     appropriate for their systems,
   * strengthened central leadership and coordination of information
     security-related activities across government,
   * strengthened incident detection and response capabilities, and
   * adequate technical expertise and funding.

For example, central leadership and coordination of information
security-related activities across government is lacking. Under current law,
responsibility for guidance and oversight of agency information security is
divided among a number of agencies, including

   * the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is responsible for
     developing information security policies and overseeing agency
     practices;
   * the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is charged
     with developing technical standards and providing related guidance for
     sensitive data; and
   * the National Security Agency, which is responsible for setting
     information security standards for national security agencies.

Other organizations are also becoming involved through the administration's
critical infrastructure protection initiative, including NIPC; the Critical
Infrastructure Assurance Office, which is working to foster private-public
relationships; and the Federal Computer Incident Response Capability
(FedCIRC), which is the central coordination and analysis facility dealing
with computer security-related issues affecting the civilian agencies and
departments across the federal government. While some coordination is
occurring, overall, this has resulted in a proliferation of organizations
with overlapping oversight and assistance responsibilities. Absent is a
strong voice of leadership and a clear understanding of roles and
responsibilities.

As we recently testified, having strong, centralized leadership has been
critical to addressing other governmentwide management challenges. For
example, vigorous support from officials at the highest levels of government
was necessary to prompt attention and action to resolving the Y2K problem.
Similarly, forceful, centralized leadership was essential to pressing
agencies to invest in and accomplish basic management reforms mandated by
the Chief Financial Officers Act. To achieve similar results for critical
infrastructure protection, the federal government must have the support of
top leaders and more clearly defined roles for those organizations that
support governmentwide initiatives.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any
questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee may have.

Contacts and Acknowledgments

For questions regarding this testimony, please contact Jack L. Brock, Jr. at
(202) 512-6240. Individuals making key contributions included Cristina
Chaplain, Michael Gilmore, and Paul Nicholas.

(512009)

        Orders by Internet

For information on how to access GAO reports on the Internet, send an e-mail
message with "info" in the body to:

[email protected]

or visit GAO's World Wide Web home page at:

http://www.gao.gov

        Web site: http://www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm

E-mail: [email protected]

1-800-424-5454 (automated answering system)
  
*** End of document. ***