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Starting September 14th, I will no longer be contracting to TSA (via KCG, who have been wonderful). Instead, I will be working for Idaho National Labs (INL) onsite at DHS as a liaison between the smart people exploring the vulnerabilities of our nation’s critical infrastructure and the smart people at DHS CSSP doing the many things that they do.

Before I head out, though, I’d like to comment a little bit on an issue I’ve dealt with at TSA that I think also extrapolates to national cyber security efforts and is in no way unique to a single agency, or even the government. The issue is the label “cyber security”.  At TSA, as at DHS, as within the media, as within popular culture, there is confusion as to what “cyber security” means – even at a very high level. The term gets bandied about so loosely that it means everything and nothing. Still, people are making policy based on it without any definition.  The amorphous nature of the conversation is going to kick us in the pants sooner rather than later. Can we please nail it down more specifically when we discuss “cyber security”?

Below, find some areas of confusion that I’ve personally run into:

1. The internet, government networks, SCADA/ICS: This one is simple. When we talk about cyber security, we really need to preface our statements with which of these areas we’re discussing. They’re NOT THE SAME and the strategies, ownership, and etc to deal with them are NOT THE SAME either. Over and over again a lack of explicit distinction here burns us.

2. “IT Security” and Technology vs Strategy: Often, in my role, we were lumped in with what IT Security does: “Isn’t that the same thing, only with more computers?” was a popular sentiment.  There is the concept that these efforts are technical in nature and that they look a lot like FISMA shops: Assess, Remediate, Certify, etc.  against some standard or set of standards.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  “Cyber security” issues are of a strategic business and programmatic nature. We know how to fix computers, we don’t know how to define what security means to our businesses, how computers affect our operations, and we don’t know our risk appetites. In other words, “cyber security” in an executive (CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CIO) issue, not one for technologists.

3. Computers vs Infrastructure vs Business Assets: We don’t care in most sectors if our computers work. Really, we don’t. What we care about is that our energy grid keeps pumping out power, our chemicals get mixed right, our cars are manufactured correctly, our financial transactions are accurate, our goods get delivered on time, etc.  These are the “assets” we are protecting. We are not protecting the internet, we are not protecting government computer systems. We are protecting the national operational interests of the United States.

4. Think globally, act locally: We’re so used to thinking about single companies and single systems within those companies that we forget that everything we do cooperates to larger goals. Our enterprise systems work together to achieve business goals which must be protected. Our business goals within critical infrastructure sectors, in aggregate, also work together to support national goals. For instance, the thousands of independent companies in “the transportation sectors” all combine to “move people and goods throughout the US and the world on time, to the correct destination, in acceptable condition”.   Many decision makers believe that it’s ok to ignore this larger context and focus on single system security or, at best, enterprise security. This is dangerous. Since these systems are interdependent whether we acknowledge it or not, they can be be used to exploit each other and damage our soft assets (goals) if we don’t regular take a look at and secure the larger picture.

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